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 SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -Not too long ago, Zak Keasey was just another unemployed linebacker who hadn't quite finished his college degree. Only his dirty-blond dreadlocks distinguished him from thousands of frustrated NFL hopefuls just like him.
After the first week of his latest training camp with the San Francisco 49ers, Keasey appears to be heading toward an unlikely gig in the sport he still calls his ``part-time job,'' even if he still hasn't completed that sociology degree from Princeton.
an Norris.
``It definitely took longer than I thought, (but) having the chance to get more reps now definitely helps out,'' Keasey said. ``I'm feeling a lot more comfortable with the position. ... We've got another great fullback who's been here and been the starter for a while, so we're just working together to push each other and compete.''
Keasey is from Auburn Hills, Mich., the suburban Detroit home of the NBA's Pistons. Two of his sisters went to Michigan, but a coach from Princeton spotted him in high school and encouraged him to join the Ivy League.
After making 127 tackles and eight sacks as a senior with the Tigers, he made the Washington Redskins' roster as an undrafted free agent, even playing in one game before getting dropped.
The 49ers had their eye on him even before the draft - but general manager Scot McCloughan thought his skills would work better on the other side of the ball. When the McCloughan called in late 2005 with an offer to sign Keasey to the 49ers' practice squad as a fullback, he was genuinely surprised.
have a little better understanding of what the defense is trying to do.''
Keasey spent the next two years putting on weight and learning the intricacies of offensive football, bouncing from the 49ers' practice squad to the active roster. He broke into the lineup last season as an effective member of the club's standout special teams, making 12 tackles.
He even carried the ball twice, though the 49ers won't expect him to do much of that this season. Instead, Keasey is most valuable for his advanced blocking acumen, according to offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who often uses fullbacks and tight ends for much the same jobs in his sophisticated schemes.
``Zak has got a real good feel for getting through traffic and getting on linebackers and DBs as a blocker,'' Martz said. ``He's unusual about it. It's kind of a lost art, if you will. He sees things and reacts to things very quickly and has such good body control that he can avoid (blockers) and get into little tiny holes, and jump through and get to a linebacker. It's hard to find guys that can do that, and he does that very well.''
Norris is a respected veteran, and the 49ers won't determine how many fullbacks to keep until they figure out how many tight ends are sticking around. Keasey's versatility on special teams should earn him a roster spot - and maybe much more.
``I definitely stay humble and don't take anything for granted,'' Keasey said. ``I just go try to take advantage of every opportunity I get out there to get better and work on my skills, and try to do every play exactly how coach wants it to be done.''
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