SANTA CLARA -- The offseason gives NFL teams -- especially ones with new coaching staffs -- a chance to experiment with players lining up in new positions, and the 49ers seem to be doing quite a bit of that in their OTA sessions. The following is a list of players who are in spots they did not play last season. Some may be temporary moves, others, such as tight end Bruce Miller, appear to be permanent.
Alex Balducci*, C. The 49ers are seeing if the former Oregon nose tackle can play center. Balducci was the team's third-string center in last week's OTA session. Which means that every now and then he might find himself facing the two guys, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, he once played alongside while with the Ducks. The conversion suggests that the 49ers like Balducci's tenacity and character but don't think he's athletic enough to play defense. Balducci played on both the offensive and defensive lines in high school.
Tank Carradine, OLB. General manager Trent Baalke has said all offseason that the plan is to use Carradine in the team's nickel formations because it's similar to the role at which Carradine excelled in college. The 49ers shift to a four-man line in those situations (just like when Carradine was at Florida State) and the linemen are in attack mode in those instances (just like when Carradine was at Florida State). Those linemen, whether they are on the inside or outside, usually rush from a three-point stance. Last week, however, Carradine was doing everything an outside linebacker does when the 49ers are in their base defense. Which is to say, he was rushing from a two-point stance and covering tight ends down the field. He's around 265 pounds, according to a league source, which is what 49ers outside linebackers typically weigh. All of which suggests that while the 49ers might be eying a regular-season role for Carradine in which he plays like a 4-3 defensive lineman, they are at least giving him a chance to prove he can be an 3-4 outside linebacker in their base defense as well.
Fahn Cooper*, G. The 49ers' fifth-round pick, who played tackle at Ole Miss., lined up at right guard with the team's third-team offensive line. Fellow rookie draft pick John Theus was at right tackle with the same unit. This isn't a surprise. Baalke said on draft day that Cooper and Theus could get work at both guard and tackle this offseason.
Lenny Jones*, ILB. The former University of Nevada defensive end lined up at an inside linebacker during last week's OTA session. Jones is a little over 6-2, weighs 256 pounds and has 33 3/8-inch arms and 11-inch hands. That seems to suggest he's more of an outside linebacker. However, he played inside linebacker with the third-team defense last week. It may be merely a numbers issue: That is, the 49ers have a dearth of inside linebackers and a lot of outside players at the moment. Jones' roommate, former Utah pass rusher Jason Fanaika, for example, was one of several players at outside linebacker.
Bruce Miller, TE. Chip Kelly's offenses don't use a fullback, which appeared to be bad news for Miller, who played fullback for four seasons and who, moreover, is shaped like a fullback. Still, Miller seems intent to make the transition work and looked sharp as a pass catcher in the single OTA session that was open to the media last week. He said he's dropped 15 pounds for the new role and finds it a little easier blocking opponents from the line of scrimmage as opposed to when he was lined up several yards in the backfield.
Jimmie Ward, CB. The former first-round pick was the team's primary nickel back last season but never has played outside cornerback for the 49ers. But that's where he was lining up -- with the first-team defense -- last week. The 49ers feel as if Ward is one of their 11-best defenders and seem to be trying to figure out a way to get him on the field for close to 100 percent of the defensive plays instead of the 64.2 percent he played last year as a nickel back. A possible scenario goes like this: On base downs, Ward plays outside cornerback opposite Tramaine Brock. In nickel situations, Ward moves back to his former role as nickel cornerback and someone else, say Dontae Johnson, steps in at outside cornerback. Ward said he played safety and nickel back during the team's April minicamp. Cornerback is new, but he noted that opponents often put their best receivers in the slot and that he's accustomed to shadowing the top players in the league. "I can run with quick, fast players. Tavon Austin -- he's no slouch," Ward said of the Rams receiver.
** Former Stanford receiver Devon Cajuste, whom many projected as an NFL tight end, has been lining up with the 49ers wide receivers group thus far. Cajuste was injured in Tuesday’s session.