If at first it seemed a bit weird seeing Kyle Juszczyk wearing Tom Rathman’s No. 44, it's clear after a few days of training camp that it's actually a perfect fit. Juszczyk is similar in size and skill to the Super Bowl-winning San Francisco fullback.
But in Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system, Juszczyk is taking on more responsibilities typical of a tight end, a position he played at Harvard. In fact, former NFL tight end Dallas Clark is the inspiration behind his choosing No. 44 when he was with the Ravens.
“I’m getting a little more work with the tight ends than I had previously,” Juszczyk told NBCSportsBayArea.com on Wednesday, shortly after a padded practice under his new head coach. “I had taken some snaps in Baltimore in that sort of tight end position, but I think just a little more so here.”
Juszczyk often arrives early to work with assistant head coach Jon Embree, who is also the tight ends coach. He also credits veterans Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell for teaching him the finer points of the position, much of which is taking place off the field.
"A lot of it has been in the classroom," Juszczyk said. "How to stay on your grind and study and what exactly I’m looking for at tight end."
The value of Juszczyk's grind can't be found on any stat sheet. He has never rushed for more than 15 yards in a game or had more than 56 yard receiving. Touchdowns are also rare -- six in four seasons. San Francisco snatched the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder out of free agency and made him the highest paid fullback in the league in large part because his ability to line up anywhere on the field gives defenses fits.
In the span of just a few plays at practice, Juszczyk caught a pass in isolation against cornerback Will Davis, blocked the much taller and much heavier Aaron Lynch, and disrupted Ahmad Brooks’ passrush.
"I have this conversation with Tank [Carradine] every single day," Brooks said about facing Juszczyk. The outside linebacker’s job is simple – set the edge, get to the quarterback. The daily conversation with his defensive lineman is how to deal with Juszczyk to accomplish that.
"What Kyle does so well at the fullback position and also in Kyle Shanahan’s offense is widen out the edge guys. When they do want to run the ball outside, his angle is so wide to block me. Even in pass situations, his angle is the same way. Sometimes I think that he’s going to block me, and he’s going out for a pass. Sometimes I think that he’s going to go out for a pass, and he’s blocking me. He’s so good at redirecting on his track and on his angle to where it’s kind of confusing me, but he’s making me better as a player."
"You have to have a mindset and whether you’re going against Ahmad Brooks or Will Davis, you have to bring that same intensity," Juszczyk explained. "It’s being able to bring the same intensity every day."
A successful game for Juszczyk is a team victory. He'd also like the running back he’s blocking for to top 100 rushing yards, the team to rush for more than 120 yards, and maybe to get a few touches himself.
"I’m never mad if you throw in a couple of receptions for myself," Juszczyk said smiling.
Juszczyk's smile grows bigger when asked about his move to the Bay Area.
"I don’t know why I haven’t been here my whole life," Juszczyk said. "It’s beautiful here. Quality of life has definitely increased, and I couldn’t be happier."
The Ohio native bought a house in San Jose and he and his fiancé are scouting locations for a possible West Coast wedding.
“We plan on being here awhile,” Juszczyk said.