Tough Huff is special stuff in secondary

University of Texas safety Michael Huff is hard to fool, extremely difficult to run past or through and perhaps even more challenging to categorize. He's not a miniature linebacker who just buries his helmet in running backs' chests, although the Jim Thorpe Award winner regularly punches out bone-rattling hits. And Huff isn't merely a fleet sprinter who eliminates the deep pass, although the consensus All-American is fast and skilled enough to operate as a shutdown cornerback.

Regarded as the top defensive back in the NFL draft, Huff seems to fit right in with the elite fraternity of young safeties such the Baltimore Ravens' Ed Reed, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Troy Polamalu and the Washington Redskins' Sean Taylor.

Huff is almost certain to be available when the 49ers go on the clock with the No. 6 pick in the first round on Saturday, but he is not expected to last many picks after that if San Francisco does not select him.

If the players the 49ers want with the sixth pick – North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams, Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk and Maryland tight end Vernon Davis – are gone when the 49ers get there, Huff becomes the leading candidate to be taken by San Francisco if the Niners stick with the pick.

"I think it's kind of a new breed of safety with myself, Polamalu and Ed Reed of the Ravens," Huff said at the NFL scouting combine. "Safeties have to do more than just stay in the middle of the field and hit now. They have to cover and blitz and do it all, and that's what I like to do.

"It's a vital position on the field because we're the last line of defense, and we can do it all. Hopefully I can carry on that tradition."

Although it was quarterback Vince Young who emerged as a hero in the Rose Bowl in leading the Longhorns to the national title over USC, he couldn't have done it without Huff. It was Huff who stopped 250-pound Trojans running back LenDale White on fourth down to set up Young for the game-clinching touchdown. It was the kind of impact big plays Huff made throughout the season.

Plus, Huff has cornerback experience. He once held Ravens wide receiver and former Oklahoma star Mark Clayton to three catches for 19 yards.

"When we first got here, we didn't look for a strong or a weak safety, we looked for a guy who can play left and right," Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "Sometimes, we want him in the box, sometimes on the back end and sometimes he has to cover man-for-man. Michael Huff is that type of player. He has corner-type skills, but he's been playing in the back end. So, that's big-time value."

Huff is not expected to slip past the Detroit Lions at the No. 9 overall pick. If the 49ers trade down a few spots, as the team may consider doing on draft day, Huff might be a player the team will angle for. The 49ers see Huff as a safety, not as a cornerback, which doesn't make him the best value pick for the team at No. 6.

At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Huff is one of the fastest players in the draft. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds, nearly as fast as Clemson cornerback Tye Hill, who's three inches shorter and 21 pounds lighter.

Huff might be one of the most dedicated incoming rookies, too. He skipped the Longhorns' congratulatory White House trip to begin training in Arizona for the draft. That didn't surprise his father who was informed by his son at age 8 that he wanted to play in the NFL.

"Having talent is one thing, but you need to have a desire that you are willing to go above and beyond the average athlete by putting in the work and making the sacrifice," Michael Huff Sr. said. "Michael's always been self-motivated. It seems like he never rests."

Huff is known for his competitiveness and football temperament, having practiced for years at Texas against Lions wide receiver Roy Williams and Young.

Huff holds the Texas school record with five defensive touchdowns, four on interception returns.

"I love getting into the end zone," said Huff, who played receiver and excelled at track at Irving Nimitz High School in Texas.

As a senior last season, he recorded 109 tackles, 10 for losses, two sacks, 14 pass deflections and one interception.

"I was deep free safety or I was strong safety in the box or covering the slot or outside covering," Huff said. "I was all over the place. I love making plays. Whether it's hitting somebody across the middle, getting a pick, going back and scoring or blocking a kick, whatever it takes to help a team win, that's what I'll do."

And the 49ers certainly could use some of that in their secondary.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for

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