San Francisco 49ers cornerback Deommodore Lenoir likens himself to a Hyena, because he’s “quick, fast, feisty…and I hunt.” His teammates call him pit bull for other reasons.
“We call him Pit Bull Bulldog,” said 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward. “He’s kind of vicious. When he’s feeling himself and confident and believing in himself, he can be vicious. He not scared of contact. He can tackle pretty well, and he can cover…He’s got that dog in him. Deommo, he’s not scared of anything. He’s ferocious, he’s got muscle. He looks like a pit bull.”
Lenoir had already moved up the depth chart to the 49ers starting nickel in Week 3, but when Emmanuel Moseley tore his ACL in Week 5, Lenoir moved outside, stepping in for a player who was at the top of his game on a defense that is at the top of everybody’s game.
“I hate to see a brother go down, but all in my head was, I’ve been prepared,” said Lenoir. “I worked hard this offseason, studied and just came out and ready to play. When my name was called, I was just excited really to be in there and be able to contribute to the team.”
Lenoir and cornerback Ambry Thomas were not only in the same draft class, but they have known each other dating back to high school.
“There’s a pit bull out there when he gets out there,” Thomas said. “He’s got an aggressive pit bull mentality. He’s going to do little stuff to irritate people and nag at people. But you feel me, that’s Deommo.”
It’s the side of Lenoir that not everyone gets to see, and he’s funny. Like really funny.
“I guess he’s reserved around big crowds or new people,” Charvarius Ward said. “But when he knows you, he’s one of the kids like that never shuts up. He’s like the little annoying, funny little brother that everybody’s got. He’s super funny, he’s got all the jokes. He’s cool and he’s definitely confident off the field, as well as on the field…I think Deommo, he’s definitely one of the funniest DBs, 100% percent. He makes me die laughing almost every day.”
Lenoir confirmed that he is, in fact, very funny and always has been.
After a strong start and disappointing end his 2021 rookie season – a season in which personal struggles took a toll – it was clear during the 49ers 2022 offseason program that Lenoir had taken a step forward.
“I worked out almost every day [in the offseason], but I wanted to pick up the film study and just pick up on little tendencies that I can use for the season and be able to just up my game,” Lenoir said.
Thomas has seen other changes in Lenoir as well.
“Honestly, the biggest spot I’ve seen him grow is how much he’s matured off the field, just as far as his note taking and the little details about what he’s been doing,” Thomas said of the 23 year-old Lenoir.
In 2021, Lenoir and his girlfriend, Arnise Williams, welcomed their now one year- old son, Titan.
“It made things mean more to me, made my purpose stronger,” Lenoir said.
With purpose comes focus and fire and an ability to be ready when needed.
“He plays with a fire and he’s young and we needed him to step up and he’s starting to play like a veteran and with a lot of aggression,” said pass rusher Nick Bosa. “Sometimes when you’re young and you’re new, you kind of stand out on tape with effort and violence and stuff. And now, he looks the part, plays the part and we’re very confident in him.”
Lenoir’s ability to hold things down opposite Charvarius Ward was not a surprise to now-starting nickel, Jimmie Ward.
“I feel like he’s had always had confidence,” Jimmie Ward said. “It’s just about putting him in the game. He’s the main corner. He can play zone, he can hit, he’s feisty, he’s aggressive. So I always liked him in games. So it’s really just about getting him those reps and stuff and just letting him play.
“…[I]t can be difficult, too, when you’re learning two spots, learning nickel and corner. It makes you better at the end. You’re young and you can do stuff like that…And things like that just going to keep happening as you let guys progress and just play the position that they got drafted for.”
That sentiment is one Lenoir has heard from mentor and former star NFL corner, Richard Sherman.
“[He’s] really just encouraging me, just being a big brother and just telling me little things and just telling me to believe in myself, because, he said, ‘You was drafted here for a reason and you know you got the talent.’, Lenoir said. “Put the confidence in yourself and believe in yourself.
Pit bulls are known as agile, intelligent and strong, all things that are necessary in a corner and all things that Lenoir is working to perfect.
“On Mondays and Tuesdays, after the Sunday game, he’s always talking about plays from the game that he messed up on or that he could have been better on,” Charvarius Ward said. “So his mentality is to always focus on getting better…There’s certain things he want to work on every day. He’s like, ‘I’m finna lock these boys up.’ This and that. So I feel like he’s approached the game and practice every day with a mentality to get better.”
Going into Thursday’s night’s Week 15 game against the Seattle Seahawks, Lenoir has 46 total tackles, 29 solo tackles, one sack and three passes defended and snagged his first interception in Week 13 against Tua Tagovailoa.
“We’ve been talking about that all season, man,” Charvarius Ward said.”We’ve been trying to get him one for the past couple weeks, because I didn’t realize he never caught an interception. I remember last year when I was still with Kansas City, he caught one against one of the backup quarterbacks for the Chiefs in the first preseason game. So I’m pretty sure his first one that counted was a big moment for him. I guess that’s one ball to add to his collection, get his collection going.”
In his second season, Lenoir has been playing with a confidence that comes with experience and preparation, which is something that was perhaps most evident during Week 11’s Monday Night Football game against the Arizona Cardinals, specifically against wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
“Each week, I’ve seen more and more confidence,” said 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. “I think it showed really versus Arizona when he’s matched up versus Hopkins and we knew that was a big challenge for us and he went out there and he competed and made a play versus him and I think that really helped him. As a corner, that’s the biggest thing. If you’re going to play on the island, you have to have confidence. With D-Mo, I’ve seen it grow each and every week, and he’s continued to do a better job each and every week and I’m loving to where he’s headed…He’s made some good plays for us, he’s still growing, still learning, still a young player, but he’s getting some quality reps in there and he’s helped us to win games.”
Getting back to the whole pit bull vs. hyena thing, to hear linebacker Fred Warner describe Lenoir, he’s a combo of both.
“You look at him and guys are probably thinking, all right, he’s a shorter corner,” said Warner. “…The dude is just scrappy. You see guys catch balls in the flat and he’ll come up and he’ll smack you. He’s not afraid to get his nose in there and to really hit people regardless of his size. I mean, the tenacity and the physicality that he plays with is really cool to see and that’s why he fits in perfect with what we do.”
The 49ers will be looking to lock up the NFC West on Thursday night with a rookie quarterback in Brock Purdy, a defense that is the best in the league and a 2021 sixth-round draft pick at corner who is making the most of his opportunity.
“After my rookie season, it actually really clicked for me and it was just like, ‘I really can play here,'” Lenoir said. “…I was thinking when I came out in the draft that I was going to go high, but that didn’t happen. So my whole goal was like, ‘I’m going to show everybody why I thought I should have went high and felt like I should have went high.’ So I came in with the mentality already to like, ‘I’m going to show off.'”
Tune in Thursday night at 8:15 pm ET/5:15 pm PT on Amazon Prime.