Demarcus Dobbs was going about his business like any other day this offseason when 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh approached with him some unexpected news.
“He just came to me, and he was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to try you at tight end some, so get ready,’” Dobbs said Saturday.
For the former Georgia DE, playing TE isn’t completely foreign. He was among the nation’s top 40 TE prospects according to ESPN coming out of tiny Calvary Baptist High in Savannah, Ga., in 2006, but was more highly regarded at DE.
His role on offense will likely be more as a blocker, and Dobbs looks at the opportunity to play both ways as a blessing.
"I hadn't played tight end since high school, but I was excited that the coaches even thought of me to play that position," Dobbs said. "It shows that they're really looking at me, and they believe in a lot of things I can do."
In the team’s first official practice of training camp Friday, Dobbs was on offense. He returned to defense for Saturday’s practice -- the last one before the pads come on.
Along with DL Will Tukuafu and LB Michael Wilhoite, who are rotating between defense and FB, the coaching staff plans to share Dobbs between both sides of the ball as best it can.
“Well, we all get concerned about it, both the offensive coaches and us as defensive coaches, because every day that he spends over there is one less day he’s spending with us, and he’s still a young player,” DC Vic Fangio said. “But, the big picture says if he’s our fourth, fifth or sixth defensive lineman and he can fulfill a role on offense also, that allows him number one, to improve his chances to make the team.”
Harbaugh and Fangio have had success with two-way players before. At Stanford in 2010, Owen Marecic started at LB and FB before being drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Last year, DL Isaac Sopoaga was in some offensive packages.
Even All-Pro DL Justin Smith got some work at FB, albeit in a much more limited role.
“Mine was pretty easy,” Smith said of his brief appearance at FB in the NFC Championship game. “They’re actually trying to use (Dobbs) on multiple sets, shifts mostly and things like that.”
“He’s a pretty physically talented guy, very coachable. The type of guy who you don’t have to be repetitive with, which is huge.”
Dobbs’ ability to pick things up quickly makes the experiment possible, but that’s not to say he hasn’t struggled with it at times.
"It is tough," Dobbs said. "You have two playbooks you have to learn. You flip-flop, one day on defense, one day on offense. So you constantly have to be in your books. But that's what we're here for. You have all this time to study. It's a learning process, but I feel like I'm on the right track."
After making the team as an undrafted free agent last year, Dobbs figures to be in good shape to land on the 53-man roster this year. Where he plays after that remains to be seen.