The heart of the San Francisco 49ers’ running game, which is currently ranked sixth in the NFL, is Frank Gore. Thus far in 2013, Gore is ranked 10th in the league, rushing for 376 yards on 78 carries and 3 touchdowns. The excellent blocking by fullback Bruce Miller has greatly contributed to Gore’s success. Few people would have expected Miller, a defensive end in college, to have accomplished so much in the NFL as a fullback.
Miller, selected by the 49ers in the 7th round of the 2011 draft, recorded 35.5 sacks as a defensive end at the University of Central Florida. Until he joined the 49ers, the 6’2”, 248-pound Miller had not played on offense since he was a high school tight end. Head coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke took a look at Miller and believed he could make the switch from defensive end to fullback thanks to Miller’s athleticism.
Miller earned his starting job in 2011 after then starting fullback Moran Norris broke his fibula in week 2 of that season. Since then,
Miller has grown into a very reliable player on offense.
While his blocking does not produce the kind of flashy statistics that receive a lot of acclaim in the NFL, the results can be seen in Gore’s increasing success as a runner as the 2013 season continues. Miller’s key blocking in last week’s win over the Houston
Texans helped the 49ers gain 177 yards on the ground. Anthony Dixon scored a 2-yard touchdown thanks to Miller’s blocking.
Described as a “Swiss army knife” by Colin Kaepernick, Miller not only blocks, but also runs and catches passes. Since 2011, Miller has 32 catches for 249 yards and 1 touchdown. Through week 5 of the 2013 season, he has 9 catches for 82 yards, the longest of which
went for 17 yards. Only in his third year in the NFL, Miller continues to learn from legendary 49ers’ fullback Tom Rathman, the team’s running backs coach. How good can Miller become under Rathman’s tutelage?
Miller may have been overlooked by many in 2011 when he was drafted alongside Kaepernick, Aldon Smith, Chris Culliver, and Kendall Hunter. He should not be now. Miller, Gore, and Rathman’s skills will be tested Sunday as they face the Arizona Cardinals’
rush defense, ranked 3rd in the NFL.