San Francisco 49ers

49ers rookie Ronald Blair embraces chameleon role on defensive line

Trent Baalke talks about draft pick Ronald Blair

The 49ers general manager suggests Blair, from Appalachian State, could figure into the team's nickel defense.
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The 49ers general manager suggests Blair, from Appalachian State, could figure into the team's nickel defense.

Is he a nose guard, a defensive tackle or a player who rushes the quarterback off the edge? All of the above, Ronald Blair said Thursday.

The 49ers’ fifth-round draft pick was a bit of a chameleon at Appalachian State, where he was a two-year team captain. He played four spots along the defensive line – sometimes in the same game – and had 71 tackles, 19 of them behind the line of scrimmage, as a senior.

NFL teams maybe have had trouble deciding Blair’s best position. He was 6-foot-2 and 284 pounds at the scouting combine in February. A month later at Appalachian State’s pro day, he was down to 270 pounds. Some teams even wanted to see how he looked as a linebacker.

That uncertainty about his ideal position may have dropped him in the draft. The hamstring strain he dealt with at the combine didn’t help, either.

“People might have thought the weight might have made (me) look a little bit slower,” said Blair, who ran the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis in an unimpressive 5.15 seconds. “But I just didn’t want to be one of those guys that sat out all the workouts. I wanted to show people what I could do. It wasn’t my best foot. I think I did a good workout, but it just wasn’t what people were expecting out of me.”

Blair, rated as a highly as a third-round pick by some evaluators, fell to the fifth round, where the 49ers grabbed him with the 142nd pick.

General manager Trent Baalke said on KNBR radio Thursday that Blair was one of his favorite players in the draft, and he and the 49ers appear to be embracing the lineman’s versatility. Blair said defensive-line coach Jerry Azzinaro told him he plans to use him similar to the way he was used at Appalachian State.

“He talked about the possibility that I could be everywhere on the D-line,” Blair said. “So we’ll see how that goes. He says he has a plan for me. We haven’t discussed that plan yet.”

Notes – Blair and other rookies began arriving in Santa Clara on Thursday for a three-day minicamp. Several picks, including fifth-round tackle John Theus, quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Kelvin Taylor, already have signed their rookie contracts.

▪ Driskel saw several familiar faces when he arrived at 49ers headquarters. He played with tackle Trent Brown, guard Ian Silberman and Taylor at Florida. Silberman transferred to Boston College before his senior season in 2014, and Driskel transferred to Louisiana Tech last year.

▪ The 49ers’ final pick, cornerback Prince Charles Iworah, said he was given his unusual first name after his parents, who are from Nigeria, had trouble having children at first.

“So they prayed to God,” he said. “My mother had me, and then (my father) said I’m going to name you Prince Charles because I believe you’re going to be great. So it’s a blessing that he gave me that name.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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