San Francisco 49ers star Staley backs Team GB’s Okoye to be NFL success
San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley backs Team GB star Lawrence Okoye to shine in the NFL. Michael Kelleher reports
San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley has backed British Olympian Lawrence Okoye to become a success in the NFL.
Okoye, a former rugby player who finished 12th in the discus at London 2012, signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent on 27 April.
Staley said Okoye, 21, has made a positive impression on his team-mates and revealed he was very impressed with the Londoner’s physical make-up (6ft 6in, 300lbs).
“I’ve met him,” he said. “He is an enormous human being – very impressive physically.
“It is going to be a learning period for him, just because he has never played the American game and there a lot of different things that you have to learn.
“There are a lot of great athletes but I think when you look at the physical tools he has to work with those are pretty rare for a guy his size.
“It will be about how quickly he can pick it up and how quickly he can learn but you are talking about a guy that has all the tools.”
Okoye is under the tutelage of highly-regarded 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, who coached in Britain with the England Monarchs and Scottish Claymores from 1998 to 2003.
Tomsula has turned defensive end Justin Smith has turned into one of the NFL’s most feared defensive players and he has been tasked with working similar magic on Okoye.
Staley was quick to praise the 49ers coaching staff, highlighting Tomsula in particular, and believes Okoye landed in the best possible situation to realise his potential.
“I think our coaching staff is probably – position by position – the best in the NFL, especially our defensive line coach, Jim Tomsula,” he said.
“He’ll be working with him and he is, I believe, the best defensive line coach in the all of the NFL.
“Jim has done great things with a lot of different players so he is definitely the guy you want coaching you.”
Unlike many other top professional sports, the NFL has a long history of latecomers to the game making a big impact.
Eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates was a basketball player who had never played football prior to joining the San Diego Chargers in 2003.
Former New England Patriots guard Stephen Neal was an All-American wrestler in 2001, who never played college football, but went on to win three Super Bowls in the ensuing four years.
Okoye possesses the ideal physical tools to be successful in the NFL and Staley is confident the Croydon native can make the grade if he is willing to work hard enough.
“It is a matter of how quickly he can pick up the game because he has all the physical tools you look for and it is not something that has not been done before,” he said.
“It is a case of how hard is he willing to work at the mental aspect and also to get the techniques down.”