49ers giving quartet a two-way look
San Francisco's Will Tukuafu has spent most of his football life chasing down running backs. The 49ers hope he can now help Frank Gore and the rest of their backfield handle other defensive linemen with the same agenda.
The 293-pound Tukuafu is getting some additional work at fullback during the 49ers' organized team activities this offseason. He even managed to catch a touchdown in practice Tuesday, taking a short swing pass from quarterback Alex Smith then rumbling into the end zone.
It might only be June but coach Jim Harbaugh is already looking for ways to keep opponents guessing - and maybe save some space on the roster at the same time.
''Will's doing a great job athletically picking up the offense and the defense both,'' Harbaugh said. ''A 280-plus guy playing fullback is going to bode well for us. We felt like that's something he would excel at.''
Tukuafu is one of four players San Francisco is using on offense and defense during its offseason workouts.
Defensive tackle Demarcus Dobbs has seen time at tight end while defensive backs Cory Nelms and Ben Hannula have taken reps at receiver.
That's nothing new for Harbaugh's teams.
He first flexed his two-way muscle at Stanford with Owen Marecic, who started at both fullback and linebacker as a senior with the Cardinal in 2010. Marecic was later selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Harbaugh continued the trend as a rookie head coach with the 49ers.
During San Francisco's playoff run in 2011, for example, it was normal to see 330-pound nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga lined up in the 49ers backfield ahead of Gore. Sopoaga played more than 35 snaps on offense while pulling double duty on defense.
''The greater share of why we're doing that is to utilize a guy's talent on the other side of the ball, possibly find a player that's a three-way player to play defense, offense and special teams,'' Harbaugh said. ''That's the 98 percent of it.''
While Tukuafu's two-way work has generated some buzz at 49ers headquarters, the 28-year-old has tried to keep quiet about it. Tukuafu has politely declined all interview requests this offseason while trying to learn both the offensive and defensive playbooks.
Tukuafu played sparingly on defense for the 49ers last year after spending most of 2010 on the practice squad. He's trying to improve his technique on that side of the ball while also learning a new position.
The good thing is Tukuafu doesn't have to go far for help. Bruce Miller, the 49ers' starting fullback, was a two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year at Central Florida before transitioning to offense in the NFL.
''You're teaching (Tukuafu) the same thing you're teaching Bruce Miller,'' San Francisco running backs coach Tom Rathman said. ''Until we get pads on I don't think you're really going to know. Then you start coaching him up on fits and how to strike a guy, how to move a guy out of the hole, how to cut a guy. That's a work in progress but it's going in a positive direction.''
Notes: The 49ers have promoted Ethan Waugh to senior personnel assistant. Waugh has been with the team since 2004 and has been working in the scouting department for the past four years. San Francisco also made Scott Brown and Chip Flanagan regional scouts.