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April 28, 2012
No introductions necessary.
Not when it comes to San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers fifth-round draft choice -- Darius Fleming from Notre Dame.
Harbaugh had to game plan against Fleming in 2008-10 when Fleming was an outside linebacker/defensive end for the Irish. Now, he'll be plotting strategy with him.
"He asked me if I knew who he was," said Fleming of Harbaugh. "I said, 'Yes, sir, I think we have encountered each other a couple of times.'"
Fleming and his teammates got the best of Harbaugh's squad in 2008 (a 28-21 Irish victory), but the Cardinal bounced back in 2009 with a 45-38 win, followed by a one-sided 37-14 Stanford victory in 2010 before Harbaugh left The Farm for the NFL.
"He could give us depth at linebacker," said Harbaugh of Fleming. "We rolled the dice last year when we had three outside linebackers. Mr. Fleming has an opportunity to compete at that position and be a core special teams player."
Fleming has a pretty good idea what Harbaugh is looking for in him.
"I think my role right now is going to be on special teams and working my way up to get in on third-down situations," Fleming said. "Coming in as a rookie, it would definitely be as a pass-rush specialist."
Fleming was the most productive Irish pass rusher over the last three seasons combined, finishing with 15 sacks, 32.5 tackles for lost yardage and 158 tackles. He played predominately outside linebacker during his 50-game, 36-start career with the Irish, but found himself in the trenches during his sophomore year in 2009.
Fleming was made the Cat linebacker upon Brian Kelly's arrival, starting all 26 games in the last two seasons.
In the months leading up to the NFL draft, Fleming's stock improved, particularly after an impressive Pro Day workout at Notre Dame the first week of April. At the Indianapolis combine and Pro Day, Fleming clocked four 40-yard dashes between 4.54 and 4.58. Pro Football Weekly analyst Nolan Nawrocki projected Fleming to be a fourth-round selection.
"He ran a 4.58 twice at the Pro Day, which for 247 pounds is very good," Nawrocki said. "He's still a bit of a developmental project. But if you set him loose just to rush and come off the edge, he's definitely got the ability to do it. It's hard to find those guys."
Fleming will join former Notre Dame teammate and roommate Ian Williams, who played in one regular season game and two playoff games for the 49ers last season.
Fleming is excited to play for Harbaugh after competing against him three times.
"Coach Harbaugh is a great guy and an awesome coach," Fleming said. "I love his coaching style. I think that's what I'm most excited about because I know the type of coach he is and the way he treats his players and the way he enjoys the game. That's exciting about him."
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