Mailbag: How Colin could still see time if he doesn’t start

There were plenty of good questions, some of which had me racking my brain (and pestering colleagues) for answers. Here’s the first batch:

Q: Do you see Colin Kaepernick playing on situational basis, like 3rd & Short or Goal-line behind Smith ala Tebow in Denver? @DannyOnAir

A: Yes. Jim Harbaugh has a reputation for utilizing whatever talent he has available — my sense is that if Joe Nedney had a masterful hard count, Harbaugh would line him up behind center on fourth-and-one to hut, HUT!! the defense offside.

With that in mind, if Kaepernick isn’t starting, I’d expect to see Harbaugh and Greg Roman take advantage of his running ability. When asked about possibly trotting out the Wildcat for Kaepernick, Harbaugh said his rookie quarterback had the athletic ability to execute all the “quarterback-driven runs” and rollouts in the playbook.

Harbaugh made full use of Josh Johnson’s wheels at the University of San Diego. In two seasons as the starter under Harbaugh, Johnson rushed for 1,065 yards on 188 carries and scored 15 touchdowns.

Q: How do you see the 49ers using Kendall Hunter? @JayManDefenseLaw

A: I think Hunter will have a chance to be Frank Gore’s primary backup and could also be in the mix to return kickoffs (he returned eight kickoffs at Oklahoma State). Trent Baalke said he doesn’t view Hunter as strictly a situational, change-of-pace back, which means Anthony Dixon will have competition for carries.

Dixon showed nimble feet as a rookie, but the Niners would prefer him to be more battering ram than Baryshnikov: He’s a 233-pound power back and didn’t consistently run like one. Dixon averaged 3.4 yards per carry and didn’t finish with a flourish, collecting 39 yards on 17 carries in the final two games.

Q: Have there been any successful S to CB conversions in the past? @hiRicken

A: A stumper. In the interest of full disclosure, it required a consultation with fellow NFL sicko and colleague Phil Barber to come up with the name of … Carnell Lake.

The Steelers’ All-Pro safety voluntarily (and successfully) moved to cornerback when Rod Woodson, a future safety, missed most of the 1995 season with a torn ACL. Lake made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback in 1995. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Lake also saw time at cornerback in two other seasons during his 12-year career.

I’m guessing the question is inspired by rookie cornerback Chris Culliver? The 49ers’ third-round pick spent two years at safety at South Carolina before transitioning to cornerback for his injury shortened senior season. The difference between Culliver and Lake, of course, is that Culliver is beginning his NFL career at corner, albeit with just seven college starts at the position.

By the way, just to complete the history lesson, Lake was a linebacker at UCLA before he became a safety-turned-cornerback in the NFL.

Q: Potential issues between Harbaugh (hard worker) and Crabtree (never played in preseason)? @mjl84

A: I realize Crabtree has a diva reputation. And his training camp dust-up with Vernon Davis and his half-hearted effort to make a post-interception tackle in the season opener in Seattle only enhanced it. But after a rocky start, Crabtree was praised for his work ethic (at least publicly) by Mike Singletary and Alex Smith during the season.

My crystal ball doesn’t forsee potential issues, but Harbaugh is probably the guy to handle them if they do arise. I’m guessing he got plenty of training in dealing with high-maintenance wideouts during his 15 seasons in the NFL.

Q: If there’s no season, will there be a draft next year? How do they handle the draft order?

A: NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded via e-mail that the answers to these questions are “to be determined.” I think the NFL will cross that bridge when it comes to it, but obviously hopes to never get there.

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