49ers invest in Harper's development
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SANTA CLARA -- Chris Harper was ticketed for a spot on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad this season. But the 49ers wanted him nearly twice as much as the standard practice-squad player.

Practice-squad players are paid a minimum of $6,000 a week for a season-long salary of $102,000. The 49ers this week guaranteed Harper $202,000 of his first-year minimum salary of $405,000 to jump from the Seahawks' practice squad to the 49ers' 53-man roster.

Harper does not figure to be much of a factor in the 49ers' offense as a rookie. But the 49ers want to give him a long look to see if he can transition from college wide receiver to the all-everything tight end role that Delanie Walker held with the 49ers in the past. Walker was capable of lining up in the backfield, H-back, tight end, slot and wide receiver. He played more than 60 percent of the 49ers' snaps last season before moving on to a starting role with the Tennessee Titans as a free agent.

"He definitely fits the mold of Delanie Walker, so I'm excited to see what he can help us with," 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said.

The 49ers already had two young tight ends on the roster, including second-round draft pick Vance McDonald. Garrett Celek enters his second season as the team's No. 3 tight end. But Harper's body type makes him a better fit for the multi-faceted role.

At 6 foot 1, 232 pounds, Harper has similar size to Walker, who played wide receiver at Central Missouri. Harper was productive as a pass-catcher in Kansas State's run-heavy offense.

"I think just coming from the wide receiver position he’s probably a little bit shiftier and niftier," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "(He's) got a little bit better straight-line speed, quickness, that type of thing. He doesn’t have the girth, the mass, the ability to lineup on the line of scrimmage and do all those things."

Harper said he might have to put on a few pounds, but the 49ers have also stressed that they do not want him to lose his speed.

Walker, who played last season at 240 pounds, created matchup problems for defenses. If teams decided to play five defensive backs with him on the field, it enabled the 49ers go with the power run game against a smaller defensive lineup. If teams left their base defenses on the field, it often created mismatches with linebackers trying to cover Walker or Davis.

Upon joining the 49ers this week, Harper (shown, right) got into a three-point stance for the first time in his life, he said. And his self-assessment as a blocker underwent a dramatic change.

"I thought I was a great blocker playing receiver," Harper said. "Now, I got to block Aldon (Smith) and Patrick (Willis), so we'll see."

The 49ers first discussed the multi-dimensional possibilities of Harper prior to the draft. The Seahawks selected Harper in the fourth round with the No. 123 overall pick. Five spots later, the 49ers selected wide receiver Quinton Patton. Harper had a disappointing training camp with the Seahawks and was among the team's final cuts.

"First of all he's a real smart guy," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Watching tape, looking at his measurables, (we) started thinking that that was a possibility. And now that we have a chance to have him on the team we'll just see if that is a possibility.

"You don't try to make a player be another player or any set specific role. He can come in and he's his own player, talents, gifts and we'll see where it goes. But I think we've got some high hopes there. (I'm) excited about him."

In line photo of Chris Harper provided by USA TODAY IMAGES.