Then-rookie DB Deommodore Lenoir started the 2021 NFL season appearing in three games for the San Francisco 49ers, starting in two and playing just under 200 defensive snaps. Then things changed. He played only 46 defensive snaps the remainder of the season and was inactive Weeks 7 through 9.
“I think I just needed to develop more, getting that mindset of some games you may play and some games you may not, but you’ve still got to work,” Lenoir said this week. “At the end of the day this is our job and this is what we do for a living. You just got to fit in where you get in.”
Beyond the normal adjustments from college to the NFL, Lenoir was dealing with a lot personally as well.
“I had a lot going on at the time,” Lenoir, who also welcomed his first child last fall, said. “I had lost my cousin. I really didn’t announce it, because it was just something to hold in. I had lost my cousin and my brother was paralyzed. It was a lot for me.”
Throughout training camp and the preseason, Lenoir seems to have elevated his game.
“This here, this is my happy place, kind of take my mind off things,” Lenoir said. “I’m able to enjoy and do something that I love with my brothers.”
In Saturday night’s preseason game against the Vikings, he recorded four tackles and had a PBU. He also played a fair amount of nickel, a position he enjoys, after playing mainly outside corner last season.
“[T]his year I started gradually playing nickel and just learning coverages…and where everybody is supposed to be…[I]t’s more fun, because you get to blitz, you get the running game and you get your nose dirty. That’s kind of my style.”
Lenoir’s improvement didn’t come by chance. It came with offseason work and help.
“I watched a lot of film, just reaching out to K’Waun Williams, Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Mosley, just picking their brain and just see how they made that step from their rookie year to the second year,” Lenoir said.
For defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, there is an emphasis on improvement and consistency, both for Lenoir and his fellow 2021 draft pick, cornerback Ambry Thomas.
“D-Mo, I love the effort that he played with, the physicality,” Ryans said after the 49ers first preseason game. “He’s coming along…Both guys are doing good things, but what I press those guys on is it’s all about the consistency at which you do things, not just the splash plays or the one time you did it right…If they can consistently perform at a high level, that’s when we see those gradual improvements, that’s when you’ll see them getting better. So those guys are still in that same bucket…”
Thomas and Lenoir’s relationship didn’t start as part of the same draft class. It started long before.
“We watched film together all the time,” Lenoir said. “Ambry, I mean a lot of people might not know, I’ve known Ambry since we were in high school. We went to the Army Bowl together and we went to the Nike [Kickoff Classic] together. We played on the same team. I was actually on the team with a bunch of Michigan teammates at the time, I was the only one for Oregon…Just him being a dog, that’s what made me like drawn to him and it was close there.”
The 49ers have to finalize their 53-man roster by next Tuesday, Aug. 30. The 49ers signed top veteran corner Charvarius Ward this offseason, as he joins Emmanuel Moseley at the team’s top two cornerbacks. After that, Lenoir and Thomas join a group competing for a spot. Thomas is currently dealing with a knee injury and didn’t suit up for Saturday night’s game and did not practice this week.
“I just want to see him battle to make the team,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said. “The same with [Lenoir]. Same with all those guys. After our starting two guys, we got some guys really competing and that could go anyway. I know Ambry wants to get out there and compete, but unfortunately, he hasn’t been healthy. He tried as hard as he could to go last week. He definitely couldn’t and that’s pretty obvious, because he hasn’t been able to go this week too. So we’ll hold out hope that he can get a chance versus Houston, but unfortunately, he has been hurt right now.”
The 49ers take on the Houston Texans for their final preseason game Thursday night.