The Jordan experiment

The 49ers have been telling James Jordan that they had plans for him at tight end since the moment he joined the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2001. Well, now is the time. After three seasons on the roster fringe as a big, rangy receiver, Jordan will make his bid this summer battling with the big boys in the interior lanes.

Jordan, who finally got on the field with the Niners at tight end during their final June minicamp after missing previous spring sessions with a knee injury, sees only one significant obstacle in making the position switch.

"Basically, blocking is the only thing that's a problem right now," the fourth-year veteran told SFI. "That's what's going to take the most work, my blocking. It's going to take a lot of practice, more technique, because my weight is never going to be 260."

Since coming to the Niners after a 109-catch senior season at Louisiana Tech, Jordan always has been one of the team's most impressive physical specimens, carrying 225 muscular pounds on his sculpted 6-foot-2 frame.

But his imposing size never was enough to allow him a breakthrough at receiver. Jordan made it to the final roster cut with the Niners as a rookie in 2001, then played in six games - primarily on special teams - with the team in 2002. He was signed back to San Francisco's practice squad last November and spent seven weeks there before being elevated to the active roster and playing in the Niners' season finale against Seattle.

That's not exactly considered making it as a receiver, so Jordan was ready to make the switch when the team approached him about the idea again this offseason. He has bulked up to 235 pounds and will attempt to make the team at about that weight.

"They were going to change me from the get-go, but they couldn't find the chance," Jordan said. "When I first got here, they were telling me that's what they wanted to do, but the time hasn't come yet. It was kind of frustrating back then. They kept telling me to gain weight, and I'd gain the weight, go to minicamp at 235 (pounds), and then I'm at receiver. Finally, they told me again this year, and I still didn't really believe it, but this time I'm out there."

And catching some attention. Jordan's sleek moves and experience as a receiver made him impressive as a middle target during June drills.

"The biggest thing with James as an inside receiver, and he's an outstanding receiver, but if he's going to be involved with our offense, he has to learn how to block," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "He hasn't done that. That is all stuff that will happen as we get into (training) camp. If you haven't played in there, it's not easy."

Jordan is learning all about it.

"I have to get my whole body into it if I'm going to block those big guys," Jordan said. "That's the only transition. Basically, the passing plays are pretty much the same. But (blocking assignments are) real different, because you're blocking bigger guys - the Buck linebacker, the defensive end, all those big guys. The plays are different, you have to know the terminology. It's like I'm a rookie all over again as far as the running plays. But the passing plays, I've got a head start on."

Switching Jordan to tight end is an intriguing experiment for the Niners because they may have a spot for Jordan's skills in the new offensive twists being unveiled by Erickson this year. The Niners plan to get tight ends more involved in their deep passing game, and they're also looking to utilize more two-tight end sets.

Jordan could be used as an H-back in some formations, and the Niners would like to see what he can do after getting open in the middle of the field.

The Niners also plan to use starter Eric Johnson more as a downfield threat this year. But Johnson and Aaron Walker are the only tight ends that have roster berths secured at this point, which could leave an opening for Jordan.

Even though there is open competition for roster berths at receiver this year after the departure of starters Terrell Owens and Tai Streets, the feeling from 49erland is that Jordan's best chance to make the team and contribute is at tight end.

"That's the one thing we'll have to find out this summer," Jordan said. "Obviously, they feel it's better for me to make the team this year. I've been here, it's my fourth year, and I haven't got a real full season in. I think they like me as a receiver, but they want me to be on the field and play. I'm cool with that. I just have to do my best.

"How they explained it to me, I'm still a receiver. I borrow the example of a Shannon Sharpe type. Hey, I can live with that."


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