Okoye, a defensive lineman, signed a reserve/future contract with the team this week, two years after playing American football for the first time. Okoye spent his first two seasons on the 49ers' practice squad, learning the nuances of defensive end from position coach Jim Tomsula, who is a candidate to replace Jim Harbaugh as the team's next head coach.
Before moving on to football, Okoye finished 12th in discus in the London Olympics in 2012.
Standing 6'6" and 304 pounds, the 23-year-old came into the NFL with a background in rugby and soccer after growing up in Croydon, a town in South London, England. He played 42 preseason snaps last August, up from 18 in his first season. Okoye was used on the scout team offense, playing tackle, during various points of the season out necessity with injuries along the offensive line.
"The objective is more football for Lawrence, and he’s taking reps as an offensive lineman and as a defensive lineman," Harbaugh said in September. "He’s really doubled his work in practice and I think that’s a real positive thing. His attitude has been open about it. Just more is more. That philosophy that more is more, is what we’re applying here, that belief. I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the way he’s attacking it as well. I think it’s got a chance, it’s got a chance. If there’s a chance, why not try to investigate that?"
The 49ers are planning to see turnover along the defensive line in the coming season. Starting defensive end Ray McDonald was released in December while former All-Pro Justin Smith is considering retirement.
That leaves exclusive rights free-agent Tony Jerod-Eddie, nose tackles Ian Williams and Glenn Dorsey with second-year players Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine left to see increases in their workloads. That makes the defensive line an area to watch in free agency and the coming draft.
Rookie seventh-round pick Kaleb Ramsey sat out the season after sustaining an Achilles injury in training camp, and will also be in the mix. The 49ers also signed nose tackle Garrison Smith to a reserve/future contract this week, along with running back Kendall Gaskins, tight end Xavier Grimble, wide receiver Lance Lewis and offensive tackle Chris Martin.