SANTA CLARA — He's a sixth-round draft pick who wasn't guaranteed a roster spot this summer.

So excuse 49ers tight end Nate Byham if he's had a few is-this-really-happening moments two weeks into his first NFL season.

One arrived after Monday night's 25-22 loss to the Saints when Byham was shaking hands after the game. There was Drew Brees. And Darren Sharper. And Jeremy Shockey. Wait, there was Jeremy Shockey ...

"It's crazy," Byham said. "Jeremy Shockey was the tight end that I've always watched since I was in seventh grade. It was crazy seeing him after the game and thinking, &‘I just played against these guys.'"

Byham isn't just playing. He playing better than anyone could have expected when the Niners made the 6-foot-4, 264-pounder the 182nd overall pick in the draft.

Five months later, the backup has not only made the 53-man roster. He's added job titles. He's seen time at fullback — a position he hadn't played since his freshman year at Pittsburgh — and can line up in the slot or on the line at tight end. He's an excellent blocker who has flashed reliable hands and great instincts.

"When you have a guy like that, you can have him go downfield, you can line him up in the backfield, you can line him up on the perimeter, it does give you — it gives you something special," Niners coach Mike Singletary said. "And the more he does it the better he's going to get."

Said quarterback Alex Smith, "He doesn't let the game get too big for him. (He's a) pretty instinctive type of guy. He just goes out there and plays. You know, I think he obviously puts in the time because he knows what he's doing, and he goes out there and executes it."

Byham, who has two catches for 11 yards, wasn't surprised when the Niners tried him at fullback this summer. Such a move had been discussed when the team scouted him prior to the draft. He was prepared to try anything to earn a roster spot.

Now that he's earned it, he's not awed. At least, that is, until after the final whistle.

"The biggest thing that's helping me right now is that I'm not really intimidated," he said. "I'm not going out there and getting stage fright. I'm not intimidated by any of the defensive ends or linebackers. It's just football."


Rookie NaVorro Bowman filled in when inside linebacker Takeo Spikes left with a knee injury Monday night and collected five tackles in about two quarters.

"I think I did very well," Bowman said. "The guys said I did well. I have a Porsche outside and they said &‘Man, you paid off that Porsche Monday night.' So I'll take that as a good thing and try to keep getting better."

Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was optimistic that Spikes could play Sunday. "I think he'll be ready. Ready to roll," Manusky said Thursday morning. But Spikes didn't practice Thursday afternoon for the second straight day.

If Spikes can't play, Bowman would start. And Manusky said outside linebackers Parys Haralson or Manny Lawson would backup Bowman. Ahmad Brooks has more experience playing inside, but Manusky said Haralson and Lawson have a better overall understanding of the defense.

For more on the 49ers, go to Instant 49ers at blog.pressdemocrat.com/49ers. You can reach Staff Writer Eric Branch at eric.branch@pressdemocrat.com and follow him at twitter.com/Eric_Branch.