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Lawrence Okoye has stood out on special teams this spring, but he’ll have to make the squad as a defensive lineman, Jim Harbaugh said.

Can Okoye make 49ers roster as a special teamer?

Published: Thursday, Jun. 19, 2014 - 8:05 am

Some of you have asked whether, given that 300-plus-pound Lawrence Okoye is one of the fastest players on the team, he could land a roster spot solely as a special teams ace in the way that guys like Blake Costanzo and Bubba Ventrone have in the past. Here’s Jim Harbaugh’s answer to that question:

“He’s got to make it as a position player, and that’s what he’s trying to get done,” Harbaugh said. “He’s doing a goob job. We talked about it last week. We have been really pleased with all of our defensive lineman doing everything that we ask. And there is great competition there, there’s great talent there and there’s been great effort there throughout the offseason. And we want that to continue into the preseason and in those games, and the competition will rage. It’s a position of strength for us.”

Indeed, defensive line is the 49ers’ deepest position, especially considering they run a 3-4 defense and that one of those three defensive linemen comes off the field in nickel situations. Okoye is battling against Demarcus Dobbs, Tank Carradine, Quinton Dial, Tony Jerod-Eddie and rookie Kaleb Ramsey for a backup spot behind Justin Smith and Ray McDonald.

There is a spot for someone like Okoye on special teams. Dobbs and Will Tukuafu, after all, have been a part of coverage and return teams in recent years. I would imagine that Okoye, who is tall (6-5) and who has some of the best hops on the team, might also be an asset when it comes to blocking field goals and extra points. But if Okoye first has to become one of the, oh, top five defensive ends on the team in order to land a roster spot, his learning curve is such that the practice squad still seems like his best bet this year.

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Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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