San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh met with the media on Thursday to kick off the practice week, and he seemed to provide a specific answer on the fullback role. Harbaugh was asked how the team would replace Bruce Miller and everything he brought to the table:
"Well, a fantastic football player, does so many things for us. [RB] Anthony Dixon will step up and do a great job, as he has been doing in that backup fullback role. I know we'd like to, at times he'd like to be running the ball more, but never a complaint about that. And, you never have to worry about AD's effort and I look forward to watching him compete."
The team signed Will Tukuafu on Wednesday to provide some added depth at fullback. Tukuafu is a defensive lineman, but he got work at fullback last season. There was some talk of Owen Marecic coming in, but it turns out Marecic might be done with football, at least for the time being. On his regular Friday evening radio segment, Trent Baalke said that Marecic had basically decided he was not going to pursue an NFL career at this point.
I suspect Tukuafu will get some modest work as a lead blocker. I think he will be active right off the bat given that he knows the playbook for the most part. Beyond Tukuafu and Dixon, I think we see a little more of Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek in the short passing game. It will be interesting though to see just what Dixon does in the passing game. He got a lot of work as a pass-catching back in Mississippi State's offense, but with the 49ers he has seven receptions for 20 yards over the length of his nearly four-year career.
Can he still make some things happen in the passing game? It will be an interesting facet of Monday's game to which we should probably pay close attention. The 49ers are in a position to do some important things in January and maybe February. The performance of the fullback will likely factor in this quite a bit.