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It is not uncommon for an undrafted rookie to be used as an example in a meeting room during NFL training camps.
But when running backs coach Tom Rathman spoke about D.J. Harper recently in front of the entire group of 49ers backs, it was for all of the right reasons.
"If you can block like that, there will be a place for you in the NFL," Rathman told the group, singling out Harper's performance in one-on-one pass-protection drills.
"At the time, I didn't think too much of it because that's my job," Harper said. "My job is to go and block those guys. I didn't think too much of it. Once I got some props from the coaches, I was really looking at it as, I have to keep that up through my career.
"It was a great feeling. especially coming from someone of his caliber. I know he did great things when he played. To have somebody like that tell me I did a good job in pass pro, it was a huge deal."
Harper (5 foot 9, 211 pounds) is a long shot to crack the 53-man roster of the 49ers, who are loaded at the running back position. But he could stick on the practice squad.
Or, as Rathman pointed out in the film room that day, other teams are watching and if a running back can block like that, there could be a roster spot elsewhere in the NFL awaiting.
Harper should get plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents for the entire NFL in the exhibition season, beginning Thursday when the 49ers play the Denver Broncos (6 p.m.) at Candlestick Park.
Harper comes to the 49ers after a six-year career at Boise State, where he endured torn left ACLs in 2009 and 2010. The NCAA granted him medical hardships for both seasons.
He is believed to be the only player at a major college to score touchdowns in six consecutive seasons. In his final season, he rushed for 1,137 yards and 15 touchdowns. He signed with the 49ers, a couple of well-known running backs who also suffered two torn ACLs in college.
"You see guys like Frank Gore and Marcus Lattimore who've had two ACL injuries, just like I had," Harper said. "It's definitely encouraging to see those guys. Marcus, we know is going to be a great player. Frank has done it for a while, and he's one of the greatest."
Gore is not expected to suit up Thursday. Lattimore and Kendall Hunter remain on the physically-unable-to-perform list. LaMichael James is likely to start. Harper and Jewel Hampton are expected to see extensive playing time throughout the exhibition season.
As as Rathman preached, gaining yards is one thing, but it's even more important to protect the quarterback when the assignment calls for the back to stay in and block.
"That was one of the main things we always focused on back in Boise," Harper said. "We did pass pro every single day, one-on-one with a linebacker. So the drills are familiar to me."
Harper is sporting a nasty gash on the bridge of his nose -- an indication that he is not afraid to mix it up.
"It's from sticking my nose in there and banging a little bit," he said. "The helmet came down. That's what you got to do. You got to be physical in there and be tough."