Perhaps the most smashing success of 49ers training camp has been Will Tukuafu.
Tukuafu, a former standout defensive end at Oregon, has been used by the 49ers as a part-time fullback in certain situations, and he’s proven that as a blocker he’s a human battering ram.
The 6-foot-4, 293-pound former rugby player is fast for his size and incredibly strong, and has a nose for defenders.
In both practices and exhibition games, Tukuafu has blown away would-be tacklers with devastating blocks.
Thursday night in San Francisco’s 35-3 exhibition victory over the Chargers, Tukuafu again was brilliant as a blocker.
“Man, he was crushing them,” running back Anthony Dixon told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch. “He was crushing them. Every time I got the ball, I heard ‘snap!’ Will was amazing out there tonight. I take my hat off to him. He did the dirty work.”
The 49ers coaching staff under Harbaugh has a track record of looking at defensive players and seeing talent that might be used on offense, and Tukuafu is just one of the latest examples.
This summer, also, defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs has become a two-way player, playing tight end. And last season, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga was used occasionally as a blocking back, and the team drafted defensive end Bruce Miller and converted him into a fullback – and a good one at that.
Now it appears Tukuafu may become one of the 49ers’ most formidable weapons as a wrecking ball who can clear the way for the likes of Dixon, Kendall Hunter, Frank Gore, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James when his number is called.
Thursday night, during the game, the Chronicle’s Kevin Lynch noted that “Tukuafu crushed everything in his path as the fullback.”
In June, during the 49ers’ minicamp, Harbaugh said the coaching staff thought Tukuafu’s talent would translate to the fullback role, and they liked what they saw. His performance in exhibition games has just reinforced the first impressions.
“He’s a very physical, very smart player, we felt like it was something he would excel at,” Harbaugh said of Tukuafu in June, adding: “I think the best will come when he puts on the pads and that’s when it will get really exciting and fun.”
For everybody except opposing tacklers.
Thursday night, Harbaugh was raving about a block Tukuafu put on Chargers linebacker James Mouton that opened a hole for Dixon to gain 6 yards. The head coach told the Chronicle it was “one of the bgest isolation blocks I’ve ever seen” and added, “I could hear it more than I could see it.”
Perhaps Tukuafu’s aggressiveness comes from his youth, when he had to battle his siblings for food at the dinner table. His bio with the Oregon Ducks says he has 10 brothers and five sisters.
At an early age, Tukuafu no doubt learned how to block, tackle and be quick about it.
With Miller, Tukuafu and Sopoaga, the 49ers now have a trio of excellent, physical blockers – all with defensive pedigrees.