The San Francisco 49ers rookie out of Central Florida will get his second consecutive start at fullback against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Bruce Miller, like many other Niners, is adjusting to his role on the team. The standout college defenseman, now expected to pass block, run block, run and receive in a complex west coast offense, has shown the will to put it on the line.
Miller has a great attitude, and has displayed the want to get better at his craft, for himself and his teammates. The Niners new offense features a lot of single back sets that don't include a fullback, but when Miller's number was called, he made sure to get a helmet on someone every play.
He's shown a great enthusiasm for the physicality that comes with the fullback position, but needs to improve his technique. Miller is used to charging at people, but when they are charging him and he's asked to protect his quarterback, he needs to get low and plant his feet. Against Cincinnati, former 49er linebacker Manny Lawson broke through the offensive line and connected with Miller.
When Miller and Lawson collided, Miller lost his footing and got bowled over, allowing the sack. Fortunately, the Bengals were called for offside and the sack was nullified. At no point during the play though did Miller allow himself a fighting chance to block Lawson.
The fullback is coming off of a preseason where he really turned some heads, but the regular season is a different beast. With Moran Norris sidelined by injury, Miller is the next man up and his team is depending on him to play like a professional. Between his physical capability to stand up linemen twice his size and his desire to get better, Miller could replace Norris more permanently.
Another bit of criteria Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers staff felt Miller met when they drafted him was with versatility. In limited time, Miller has already hauled in 4 passes for 25 yards. To give you some scale as to how significant that is to the 49ers offense, Michael Crabtree, Braylon Edwards, Ted Ginn Jr. and Delanie Walker all have only 4 catches each.
Miller adds a whole new dimension to the offense with his pass catching ability; something the 49ers haven't been able to get out of Norris. This is good because he can provide an extra check-down for Alex Smith when he's under fire by opposing defenses.
The fullback has only 1 carry this season but his athleticism would lead many to believe that he is capable of Peyton Hillis-like runs. Miller may need an extra season to become acclimated and put on some extra weight, but his versatility affords him no ceilings.
I also like Miller to set the tone for the offense. Coming out of the fullback position, Miller can accelerate to full speed before lowering a shoulder into a defender. This offense could use a hype-man to get them excited and having fun. Miller can do that providing some big hits, that hopefully open up lanes as well.
I think Miller is one of the new 49ers additions that is just going to keep getting better and better if he stays healthy. And Miller, along with Kendall Hunter and Aldon Smith, are rookies that can make some noise for the 49ers right now. But Miller has a real challenge ahead of him this weekend when the 49ers take on Philadelphia.
He is going to have to stand in the pocket and help slow down that pass rush. The fullback might be called on to help keep Alex Smith vertical with an offensive line that has been struggling. Watch Miller's development this season, starting with his growth from week three to week four.
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