What FB options do the 49ers have in light of the Bruce Miller injury?

Al Messerschmidt

The 49ers are going to be without their starting fullback for some time. What does it mean for the roster and offensive philosophy?

Fooch's update: Barrows had a couple tweets:

The San Francisco 49ers suffered a huge blow on Sunday, losing Bruce Miller to what is being reported as a fractured scapula. We'll have more from socalisteph on the injury, but in the meantime, the basic timeline has him out for the rest of the season.

One doctor on Twitter said he was looking at a minimum six weeks recovery, which technically could have him back in time for the Super Bowl, but in reality it sounds like bare minimum it's a 3-6 month recovery process.

There are two issues that arise in losing Miller. The first is that he has been Frank Gore's lead blocker the last two and a half seasons. He has developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber fullback in a league where fullbacks have quietly disappeared. However, more importantly is the Delanie Walker role he has filled. After Walker signed with the Titans, the 49ers drafted Vance McDonald, and many of us assumed he would fill Walker's role. Instead, Miller took over that role. He added to his blocking duties, and he became a frequent target of Colin Kaepernick in the passing game. The 49ers used him on swing routes, wheel routes, and general dump-offs. It was not a pretty role, but he did great work, and made some key plays for a 49ers offense that struggled after the Packers game.

That's a simple way of saying that losing Bruce Miller is a blow to the offense as it currently exists. The team has Michael Crabtree back in the mix, so there is plenty of opportunity with that, but Miller has remained key. So, how will the team replace Miller in the lineup?

Operating under the assumption that Miller is done for the year, the 49ers will look to several options. On the current roster, Anthony Dixon is the first name that comes to mind. He has gotten fullback work in training camp the last two years, and is always excited for any opportunity he can get. Whatever else the 49ers do, I'm sure we'll see Dixon get some fullback work.

Jim Harbaugh told the media that the team was bringing in Owen Marecic for a physical. He said the team would assess where Marecic is and consider him as an option. Marecic is a blocker, but not exactly a notable option in the passing game.

One option dartdart mentioned in the previous Miller post was Will Tukuafu. The 49ers waived him early in the season and reached an injury settlement that covered one game check for Week 2. The team had to wait six weeks after that one game check to re-sign him, so they are now eligible to bring him back. The 49ers occasionally used Tukuafu as a blocking back last season, so they could very well decide to bring him back again. He does not appear to have the chops to get worked into the passing game all too frequently, but he is an option.

Jim Harbaugh also said the team could get "creative with some other guys on the team." This could entail mixing in some defensive players at fullback. Demarcus Dobbs got some work at tight end in training camp last year. Maybe the 49ers give Michael Wilhoite a shot at the role.

Amid all this, there is also the possibility that we see some adjustments in the offensive philosophy. We could see a lot less 2-back work, and instead see more 3-receiver formations. Maybe we suddenly see Mario Manningham in the mix more than we've seen since Crabtree came back. Or maybe, a potential shift in philosophy means Quinton Patton gets activated. If the team switches to more 3-WR sets, I have to think they need to activate another receiver. Kassim Osgood can get a few snaps, but he's not a guy you want to plug in if another receiver goes down for more than a few snaps.

How do you see this whole thing playing out? Do we see them stick with the same philosophy and hope some other guys can fill in? Do we see a shift in philosophy reflecting the loss of such a key cog? Or maybe some combination of both?

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