Something I haven't missed from the Nolan-Singletary days is the continuous position battles at damn near every position. When Jim Harbaugh came to town, it was clear that he thought that would be a waste of people's time and energy to withhold information like that, but it appears as if a position battle has emerged.
At the fullback position, Bruce Miller and Moran Norris are the two active players competing for playing time. Norris, the longtime lead blocker for Frank Gore, has been sidelined by injury, giving Miller a chance to show what he brings in Norris' absence. Norris has become more frail in his age, and appears to have taken a backseat to Miller, ability-wise.
Miller is anxious and excited to get out there and contribute as a blocker and pass catcher. Meanwhile, Norris has never really been known for his versatility and it could hurt him starting immediately. While Norris was out, Miller took over as the starter but was never officially slated as the number one on the depth chart.
As of Tuesday, Miller was officially bumped ahead of Norris on the depth chart to the number one fullback. This is worth noting because this is a team that is always looking to build toward the future, and Norris may find himself left out of that plan sooner rather than later.
Coaches have taken notice that the rookie who played defensive end at Central Florida has transitioned much smoother and quicker than anticipated. Miller has been a reliable checkdown option for quarterback Alex Smith, recording nine catches for 40 yards so far in 2011.
Coaches Harbaugh, Roman and Rathman will likely come to a decision where Miller will be declared the starter, but I'd expect Norris to still get reps when he's fully healthy. Having fresh legs on the field, especially for a lead blocker, could be instrumental to the 49ers ground game.
Norris is coming to the end of his career while Miller is just getting his going. But the 49ers have a competent staff in place to ease Miller in as the starter and depart with Norris gracefully. And even though Norris has frustrated fans, I have always had a soft spot for him given his relationship with Frank Gore. He's been a great teammate, but unfortunately, he isn't getting it done on the field anymore and the Niners have found someone who can.
The position battle should become more clear when Norris returns to full participation, but the pendulum is likely leaning in Miller's favor. Norris may be used situationally on third or fourth and short, but the brunt of the work should be Miller's to lose.
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