San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has gained a reputation for using players in non-traditional roles, and he may be doing it again with Will Tukuafu, a defensive tackle who has been spending time at fullback during practice.
On Tuesday, Tukuafu caught a pass while coming out of the backfield, and the 6-4-, 293-pound Tukuafu has been getting quite a bit of practice time at fullback behind Bruce Miller.
Harbaugh is impressed by what he's seen of Tukuafu on offense during practice.
"Yeah, Will's doing a great job athletically, picking up the offense and the defense, both," Harbaugh said. "And I think the best will come when he puts the pads on. I think that's when it'll get really exciting and fun. A 280-plus guy playing fullback is going to bode well for us."
Tukuafu played in four games in 2011 as a defensive lineman, but his season ended when he injured his wrist during kickoff return.
Harbaugh said Tukuafu will continue practice on both offense and defense, and it appears he is another player Harbaugh might use on both offense and defense.
Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga was used as an extra blocker last season on 42 offensive snaps last season, and safety Colin Jones played one play as a wide receiver, according to CSN Bay Area. In the playoffs, defensive linemen Justin Smith and Demarcus Dobbs played a few plays on offense.
Harbaugh sees the kind of athleticism in Tutuafu that could enable him to make that transition, too.
"Yes, yes. And there are a few others too, but he's doing a very nice job," he said. "And just looking at him, evaluating him, seeing what his athletic skill set is. Plus, very physical, very smart player. We felt like that's something he would excel at."
Tutuafu was more concerned about making the team than commenting about a possible new position.
"See if I make the team first," he told CSN Bay Area. "Got to graduate first."
He was not the only player who impressed Harbaugh Tuesday.
"There are a lot of guys that are doing very well," he said. "And a lot of guys are out here too. We were pretty much at full force today, minus one or two guys. So, it was outstanding. That attendance has been that way all offseason for us. And we've talked about it before, but that's an exciting thing for us. Yeah, [tight end] Vernon Davis is having an outstanding offseason, everyday just getting better at route running. Every facet of the tight end position he's really excelling at right now. And a lot has been talked about a guy like [quarterback] Alex Smith not having the same coordinator and what's that going to be like two years in a row. But that also goes true for Vernon Davis, [wide receiver] Michael Crabtree, and many other offensive players. Defensively, yeah several guys are excelling on that side of the ball, and I think you know all those names. [Cornerback] Perrish Cox is having a real good offseason, real good addition for us. And quite a few others, we could stand here and talk for a while about that. But, really pleased with the way our guys are working right now."
Harbaugh said Cox could be a "two-phase player."
"I think he'll contribute not only in the special teams, but he'll have a shot in our secondary," Harbaugh said. "And it's a spot yet to be determined, in terms of where he'll contribute as the nickel corner. But he has the ability to do both of those, but that's been good. [Cornerback] T [Tarell] Brown's having a real outstanding camp. I think our whole secondary is really performing very well. We've had a lot of passing work, a lot of throwing work has been the emphasis."
Linebacker Cam Johnson did not participate in practice Tuesday, and Harbaugh said he is having medical procedure performed.
"It's nothing major. And kind of a clean out," Harbaugh said. "So he'll be back for training camp 100 percent, full go. We felt that it was better to do it now. And I think our doctors were right to do it. So, I think this will benefit Cam and he'll be able to put his best foot forward come Training Camp."