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Lawrence Okoye set for NFL preseason debut

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San Francisco 49ers rookie Lawrence Okoye is set for his first taste of NFL action when he takes to the field against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night.

The 6ft-6-in defensive end was competing in the Olympics this time 12 months ago, but he's set to suit up as an NFL player for one of the most decorated franchises after a whirlwind crash course in the basics of the game.

His defensive coordinator Vic Fangio admitted he's not sure how he'll get on, but insisted Okoye has been making impressive progress in practice.

"He has been really making strides out here," Fangio said. "He has gotten better from Day 1 to whatever day is now, 10 or 11…He has gotten better. But it's all relative."

Picked up as a free agent after the NFL draft, Okoye looked to get up to speed by learning the playbook and the basics of defensive technique with the rest of the first-year players earlier this summer.

He's since impressed in training camp with the full 49ers squad, and has been handed the number 78 jersey for the preseason match against the Broncos.

Fangio remained coy over how much game-time Okoye would see, but confirmed he would definitely look to get him some action.

"We'll try getting him into the game Thursday," Fangio said. "How much? We don't know yet."

Okoye has been practising in full pads since the beginning of training camp on July 27, and a good performance in the preseason matches could lead to a coveted spot on the 49ers' practice squad.

"It's going to be interesting to be in front of the Candlestick crowd and be at my first football game," Okoye said.

The complexities of the NFL playbook require intense study for even the most accomplished of professionals, so Okoye - who didn't play at high school or college level like most of his teammates - has a lot of catching up to do.

"Our first goal was to get him to so he looks like a really bad football player," defensive line coach Jim Tomsula told the Mercury News. 

"I don't mean that in a negative way. It's a compliment. The key term there is 'football player.'"

And Okoye revealed he's on board with Tomsula when it comes to getting to grips with the fast-paced action of real-life NFL play.

"I'm enjoying the ride," Okoye told the Mercury News. "Sometimes I leave the field and my ears are ringing, but it's a good feeling. 

"I enjoy being a bad football player at the moment."

It's one step at a time for the former-Olympian, but he's set to take his biggest yet when he suits up for his first NFL fixture - hopefully the first of many to come.

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Lawrence Okoye
San Francisco 49ers

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