North Carolina's Quinn is pass-rushing force, at either OLB or DE

  • Robert Quinn runs through drills during North Carolina's annual football pro timing day in Chapel Hill, N.C., Thursday, March 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

How can a 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end help a secondary?

Just ask the defensive backs who played behind North Carolina's Robert Quinn, whose rare blend of size, strength and speed earned him the nicknames "Atlas" and "Big Freak" from his teammates.

"Just playing behind him you understand what he does for a defensive back," North Carolina cornerback Duenta Williams said. "At (East Carolina) two years ago, he sacked a guy so fast that I thought it was false start on the offense or something. I thought they were about to start the play over again. Just situations like that, you didn't have to do too much covering."

The 49ers have long been searching for a speed-rushing force that could harass quarterbacks and, in turn, mask breakdowns in the secondary. The Niners haven't had a player post more than 8? sacks in a season since 2002 when Andre Carter had 12?. They have played primarily a 3-4 defense since 2005, but have yet to locate a pass-rushing outside linebacker that's vital to the scheme.

Last year, they used a four-man rotation at outside linebacker consisting of Parys Haralson, Manny Lawson, Travis LaBoy and Ahmad Brooks. The underwhelming quartet managed 16? sacks, one more than Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

When asked about his outside linebackers earlier this offseason, new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio offered a lukewarm assessment that ended with this admission: "We're searching."

That search brings us back to Quinn, a projected top-10 draft pick who, at 265 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds, had a vertical leap of 33 inches and posted a broad jump of 10 feet, 6 inches at his pro day. Big Freak, indeed.

During the NFL Combine, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said of Quinn, "He's as good a natural pass rusher as I have ever seen."

Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, the draft's premier pass-rushing demon, will likely be off the board when the Niners pick at No. 7 and Quinn is widely regarded as the next best option.

The 49ers, however, would likely be envisioning Quinn as their long-awaited 3-4 outside linebacker. And it's believed that Quinn's ideal position in the NFL is defensive end.

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