The 49ers this week will release the names of the dozen or so undrafted rookies they signed, and on Friday they will begin a three-day rookie minicamp.
One of the more interesting positions to watch will be tight end. The 49ers, of course, lost their No. 2 tight end, Delanie Walker, to the Titans in free agency, and they seemingly replaced him with Vance McDonald in the second round.
As was the case with Walker, who played wideout at Central Missouri, McDonald spent time at Rice as a wide receiver. While the 49ers' No. 1 tight end, Vernon Davis, primarily lines up at the end of the offensive line, the No. 2 tight end is used all over the formation - sometimes in the backfield as an H-back, sometimes split out as a wide receiver. That is, versatility and route running are required for the job, and McDonald already has a good start in both.
The other newcomer at the position also has a background similar to Walker's. MarQueis Gray was recruited at the University of Minnesota to play quarterback. But when he arrived there, the Golden Gophers already had a solid passer, Adam Weber, and they used Gray as a wide receiver his first two seasons. Gray caught 42 passes for 587 yards and five touchdowns in 2010.
The following season, he moved to quarterback where he ran a read-option style offense. Gray threw eight touchdowns and ran for another six in 2011. He gained 966 yards on the ground that season, averaging 4.9 yards a carry. That means the 49ers have two new quarterbacks -- seventh-round pick B.J. Daniels is the other - capable of running read-options plays. (Greg Roman is salivating over the possibilities).
Gray played both quarterback and, following an ankle injury, receiver his senior season at Minnesota. When the year ended, it was clear NFL teams felt his best position was tight end. That's where he lined up in the Texas vs. Nation all-star game, and he's been training with former NFL tight end Ben Utecht during the offseason. Gray does not have much experience blocking defensive ends and linebackers, and Utecht has been working with him on technique.
One area in which the Walker comparisons end is size. The 49ers listed Walker as 6-0, 242 pounds. McDonald is 6-4, 267 pounds while Gray is 6-3, 245 pounds with the frame to pack on more weight if needed. Gray also ran his 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds, which is excellent for someone his size. And, of course, he has the long arms that GM Trent Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh seem to cherish. Gray's measure 34 inches.
McDonald, Gray and 2012 undrafted free agent Garrett Celek will compete for backup roles at tight end this offseason.
-- Matt Barrows