Jim Harbaugh has Tom Rathman on his coaching staff.
Based on his history, however, it’s not clear that Harbaugh will be seeking a modern-day Rathman as his fullback in his power-based West Coast offense.
Harbaugh may have memorized those Bill Walsh installation tapes, but it’s worth noting that he’s never used a fullback like the 49ers once employed the versatile Rathman, who had more than 40 receptions in four of his eight seasons in San Francisco.
Rathman, who had two 100-carry seasons, had a career-high 73 catches in 1989. Seventy-three catches? In his seven seasons as a college coach, Harbaugh’s starting fullbacks combined for 53 catches and had more than nine catches just once. In addition, those fullbacks – Owen Marecic at Stanford and Jon Polk at the University of San Diego — had fewer than 24 carries in six of seven seasons, averaging 18.4 carries per season.
“Blocking is what my responsibility has been on the team for years now, both high school and college, and I love doing it, and take it very seriously,” Marecic said at the NFL Combine. “I really enjoy it and it’s just my role on the team.”
Harbaugh’s use of his fullback obviously could change in the NFL, but the way he used Marecic and Polk primarily as lead-blocking battering rams reflects a trend in the league. Last year, for example, Atlanta’s Jason Snelling was the only fullback with more than 25 receptions. In 2000, eight NFL fullbacks had more than 25 catches and five had at least 35.
The 49ers will no doubt be looking for a fullback in the draft, if for no other reason than the 250-pound Moran Norris, who had seven touches in 2010, will turn 33 in June.
Whomever they select will be coached by Rathman, the running backs coach, but they won’t necessarily be reprising his role.
• Marecic and Polk were primarily blocking fullbacks under Harbaugh and they performed their jobs with distinction.
Marecic (6-1, 248), who also played linebacker as a senior, was a three-time honorable-mention Pac-10 selection before being named an All-American as an all-purpose player in 2010.
Polk (6-1, 230) was a team captain and an all-conference selection who became the first USD player in eight years to be invited to the Hula Bowl when he participated in the all-star game in 2007.
Here’s a look at their statistics under Harbaugh:
Rushing: 23 carries, 46 yards, 5 TD
Receiving: 9 catches, 75 yards, 0 TD
Rushing: 8 carries, 15 yards, 4 TDs
Receiving: 8 catches, 132 yards, 1 TD
Rushing: 0 carries, 0 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: 4 catches, 25 yards, 0 TD
Rushing: 5 carries, 6 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: 4 catches, 26 yards, 0 TD
Rushing: 22 carries, 76 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: 6 catches, 45 yards, 2 TD
Rushing: 55 carries, 231 yards, 8 TD
Receiving: 13 catches, 82 yards, 0 TD
Rushing: 16 carries, 49 yards, 0 TD
Receiving: 9 catches, 52 yards, 1 TD