Every spot is precious on an NFL roster, so head coach Jim Harbaugh might have found a way to add more versatility to his team by going back to the future.
Harbaugh and his coaches have turned Demarcus Dobbs – who played last season for San Francisco as an undrafted defensive end – into an old-fashioned, two-way player.
Dobbs is now the third tight end while also still playing defensive end.
In last week’s exhibition victory over Minnesota, Dobbs played both ways. On defense, he twice pressured Vikings quarterback Joe Webb into throwing incompletions. He also lined up at tight end on offense, but didn’t make a catch.
Though he told the media after the game that he was disappointed with his play on offense, saying, “It wasn’t all crisp and it didn’t go as well as I planned it to be tonight,” Harbaugh and his staff like what they see from the 6-foot-3, 285 pounder.
The head coach says they want to use Dobbs on both sides of the ball, and in situations where he can make a difference.
“Everybody wants a piece of Dobbs right now, on both sides of the ball and special teams,” Harbaugh told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch. “He is a popular guy with our coaching staff. It’s something that’s being, to the best of our ability, thought out and planned and utilized, that he’s not overused, overstrained and we don’t get diminishing returns.”
As it stands now, Dobbs would be the No. 3 tight end on the roster behind Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The other top candidate for third tight end on the roster, Nate Byham, was released on Thursday.
To accommodate his new role, Dobbs has shed the number he wore last season, 96, for jersey No. 40, which will allow him to play both tight end without reporting to officials as an eligible receiver.
Dobbs, who played defense at Georgia, is not a complete stranger to the tight end position. As a high school tight end, he had 18 touchdown catches.
Last season, he made the 49ers’ roster with an impressive training camp and 2½ sacks in the exhibition season. In 12 games during the regular season, he had two tackles.
Dobbs says getting work at two positions and staying on top of his responsibilities on both sides of the ball has required a lot of extra work – both extra individual practice and rushing back and forth between offensive and defensive meetings.
But, he’s up for the challenge.
“Anything that I can do when somebody tells me ‘Good job,’ that’s when I enjoy it,” Dobbs told Comcast Sports. “If I make a good block or I have a good catch or people are satisfied and impressed with what I do, that makes me feel good.”