Although Jim Harbaugh's comments about Alex Smith and Peyton Manning got all the press yesterday, he also had some interesting things to say about two-way players and getting creative with the 49ers offense. While we here a lot about versatility earning a roster spot, that generally is applied to players like offensive linemen who can play multiple positions on the line, players in the secondary who could play both corner and safety, and of course anybody with particular special teams prowess.
This week, the 49ers have used a variety of defensive players on the offensive side of the ball. Coach Harbaugh chatted briefly about it:
When you get guys who are switching from one side to the other, what's the benefit there? Is it just to gain them some knowledge, say if it's a DB playing wide receiver, is he gaining knowledge on how to be a better DB, or is it something you want to see that, "Hey, maybe we can sneak him in somewhere?" Or is it both?
"Well, you can gain knowledge by playing the opposite side of the ball. But the greater share of why we're doing that and most of the share 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. That's the 98 percent of it."
How are some of those guys doing? We saw DT Will Tukuafu playing a lot of fullback yesterday.
"Very well, very well. Will is doing an outstanding job. Right now, we're in the athletic portion of these practices and workouts. He's done very well with that. I think the fun will start with him when we put the pads on. [CB] Cory Nelms, [DB] Ben Hannula, [DT] Demarcus Dobbs, are other guys that are doing that. And so far so good, doing very well."
Aside from seeing defensive players operating as wide receivers or extra blockers, the team got especially creative in special teams. In case you didn't get it from the picture up top, NaVorro Bowman and others were given a random chance to run back some kicks. If I was Konrad Reuland, I'd be just a little scared seeing that freight train coming at me. Thankfully for Konrad, there was no live contact.
Coach Harbaugh was also asked about Isaac Sopoaga, a man whose passing skills have received much fanfare:
Do you remember the first time you saw DT Isaac Sopoaga throw the ball? And what were your impressions?
"He throws a very long ball. And a very tight spiral too. Yes, throws as well as any big man I've ever watched. He's amazing that way."
Is that something that you'd ever utilize?
"You never know. You never know, could be."
Do you remember was it in warm up? Do you have it in your mind the first time you saw that?
"The exact time, no. One of those early weeks in the season, or it could have been training camp. He likes throwing the ball.
When the 49ers got into week 17 last season, they were in a must-win situation to secure a first round bye. The team did mix in a trick play on pass from David Akers to Michael Crabtree, but that was the extent of the wackiness. My hope this year is that the 49ers can go into week 17 not needing a win so that we can see Ice get a chance to fire off a pass.
I don't ask for a whole lot in life, but I'd love to see Sopoaga get one throw. Given how good his arm is, it only makes sense to roll out one fake play with him at some point. The team could utilize some kind of reverse to get the ball in his hand, or potentially line him up next to Alex Smith in the shotgun and direct snap it to Ice. One option for best getting a player open deep is some kind of flea-flicker. Smith hands off to Gore running up the middle, but Ice remains back near Smith instead of lead blocking. Gore flips the ball back to Ice and he fires off the deep pass. It seems so simple, right?!