Niners checking out Chris Chester at center

The 49ers had a formal face-to-face interview last month at the NFL Combine with Oklahoma product Chris Chester, an athletic offensive lineman who has emerged as one of the top three prospects at center in the April draft after his impressive performance at the combine. Chester, a converted tight end who also can play guard, is one of several versatile linemen on the Niners' board that the team will be tracking on draft day. Here are some excerpts from an exclusive interview with Chester.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Chester figures to be competing for a staring role wherever he lands in the NFL this season, and the Niners' interest would increase significantly if the situation with Jeremy Newberry's surgically-repeared right knee remains uncertain on draft day.

Originally a tight end who also gained valuable experience at the guard position, Chester possesses the athleticism and versatility to play multiple positions at the pro level – a real advantage heading into the draft.

Despite breaking his hand and suffering a knee injury last fall, Chester had his most successful season at Oklahoma. For his efforts, he was awarded the Bob Kalsus award, honoring bravery, integrity and hard work.

Known to be a gritty, hard-nosed football player, there's no question why Chester has become a valuable prospect for several NFL teams. He is considered by most draft analysts to be among the top five centers available in the college lottery next month, and rated by some among the top three centers.

He raised his stock significantly last month at the combine in Indianapolis, blowing away the competition at his position with a 4.90 40-yard dash and a 3-cone agility time of 7.31 seconds.

No one else at his position completed the 3-cone in less than 7.4 seconds. And only one other center, Boston College's Pat Ross, ran a sub-5.0 dash, posting a 4.97 result. Chester was also tops in the broad jump (8-10), vertical jump (31.5) and had the fourth-best bench press with 27 reps.

Here's what he had to say about his past, present and future during a recent interview with

Q: What was the progression from tight end to offensive lineman like?

The first three years at Oklahoma I was a tight end. And I was a redshirt my first year, but the two years after that I was doing some of our jumbo formations and our short yardage, where you need extra tight ends for blocking. Going into my fourth year, Coach Kevin Wilson, our offensive line coach, he approached me and asked me if I'd be interest in working at center. He thought with my athleticism and size, being a pretty a good blocker at tight end, that I could be a good center. It's kind of hard to go from a skill position to the offensive line. But in the end, our team had a need at center so I went ahead and did it. I worked all through spring, and after that spring, I came out and did double duty at both tight end and center. I did a little bit of both. This last year, I started the season at guard for the first game. But our coach decided, just because of my athleticism, that I'd be a better fit at center.

Q: How much did you have to bulk up to make the switch from tight end to offensive line?

It was kind of a long process. To get to where I'm at now, it was about a two, two-and-a-half-year process. My fourth year at tight end and center, I was probably at about 265. So by the end, I gained about 25 pounds or so. But it was really just a progression over time.

Q: When you were playing tight end, what was your weight then?

Anywhere right around 250 to 270. I always moved pretty well, regardless of my weight. It didn't really have any negative effect on me.

Q: What did you weigh in at the combine?


Q: Your senior year, were you in the 295 to 300 range?

Yeah, I started the season at about 295.

Q: You started three games at center and four games at right guard last season. Where do you feel the most comfortable?

I like center probably the most, just because in the end it's just a good feel for me. When it comes to the difference between guard and center, there's not a whole lot of difference other than having the ball. And there's a lot of similarities between the two. In the end, probably center, but I don't see a huge difference.

Q: Do you miss playing tight end?

Every once in a while, because you get to catch the ball. But at center, I get the ball every play. So it's pretty cool.

Q: You won the Bob Kalsus award for bravery, integrity and hard work. How much did that mean to you and what did you do to earn that?

It was a tremendous honor. It's right up there as probably my greatest achievement at Oklahoma. And I wouldn't say that I won it this year. I'd like to say my hard work over the last five years were contributing to me winning it. And this year everything kind of came to a head.

Q: You seem to be a very humble and soft-spoken guy. Is that pretty accurate, or is there a wild and crazy side to you?

I'm definitely humble, just the way my parents brought me up. I wouldn't say wild and crazy, but I'm definitely quick to make jokes and be a practical joker. I've always got the witty one-liners. I'd like to think I'm a pretty funny guy. I've got a pretty good sense of humor to keep the atmosphere pretty loose.

Q: You've got a son. How old is he?

He is four months old.

Q: How has becoming a father changed your outlook on life and how you're approaching this opportunity to play in the NFL?

Becoming a father, you definitely have to be a lot more self sacrificing and less selfish. When I was on my own, I just had to look out for me in the end. When you put someone else's life, including my wife as well, you always have to consider them, and in the end, do what's best for them.

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