Niners add another to crowded backfield

The 49ers added another big body to their crowded offensive backfield Tuesday when they signed sixth-year veteran Moran Norris, a free agent who will compete for a berth at fullback on the team's 2006 roster.

Norris figures to fill the primary role of designated blocking fullback, considering that is what he has been since entering the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 2001.

The 6-foot-1, 254-pound Norris has performed the role well since he joined the Houston Texans in his sophomore NFL season of 2002. Norris started 18 games in four seasons with the Texans, including five starts last year, but only recorded one carry for zero yards during that entire span – Norris' only carry in 62 career games.

He has built a lasting career in the NFL by performing on special teams and also being versatile enough to be used as a kickoff returner.

But performing with the ball in his hands isn't what has kept Norris in the NFL. He has averaged just 10.9 yards on his 10 career kickoff returns and only 4.8 yards on his 12 career receptions.

The 49ers are more interested in what he can do clearing space for others. Norris' chance to make the team figures to hinge on whether the 49ers feel they have a reliable blocking dimension in their other options at fullback.

Norris joins a backfield that already features six other holdover veterans and two recent additions in the April draft, fourth-rounder Michael Robinson and sixth-rounder Delanie Walker.

The 49ers are hoping to convert Walker, a productive wide receiver at the Division II college level, into a hybrid fullback who would be used more as a receiving threat in their offense.

The other players San Francisco currently has slated to play fullback – veterans Terry Jackson and Chris Hetherington, the incumbent starter at the position – are versatile players who can play backfield roles other than that of strictly a blocking fullback.

Each of those veterans are standout performers on special teams – Jackson led the 49ers with 21 special teams tackles in 2005 – which is something the team also would be getting from Norris, who had 12 special teams tackles for the Texans last season.

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