Anthony Dixon has read the writing on the wall, and it’s a message that is loud and clear.
With free-agent Brandon Jacobs and second-round draft choice LaMichael James added to a San Francisco 49ers backfield that already includes starting running back Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and himself, Dixon entered training camp knowing his job was on the line.
So, Dixon, a third-year running back from Mississippi State, asked head coach Jim Harbaugh if he could work as a dual-purpose back, playing both fullback and running back.
His wish was granted, reports Kyle Bonagura of CBSSports.com, and Dixon already has worked at fullback since Sunday in Niners’ training camp at Santa Clara.
That doesn’t mean Dixon will be out of the fight for a job, of course. The fullback spot, too, is crowded with second-year pro Bruce Miller – a converted defensive lineman who shined as a fullback in his rookie NFL season in 2011 – and Rock Cartwright, the former Raider and special teams standout who signed with San Francisco as a free agent.
“I told him right now I could be a dual threat to help the team,” Dixon told Bonagura of his conversation with Harbaugh. “I’m just trying to separate myself and I feel like if I can do both, that’ll put me in a different category. Coaches are saying it’s a great move and I think it’s a great move.”
In his first season in 2010 as a sixth-round pick, the 6-foot-1, 233-pound Dixon – labeled a “power back” coming out of college -- carried the ball 70 times for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, his carries dropped to 29 for 87 yards and a pair of TDs. And with Jacobs and James added to the mix, it figures to be a crowded San Francisco backfield in 2012. Though the 49ers coaching staff is creative with the running game, getting everybody onto the field each Sunday will be a challenge.
Dixon played in an option offense at Mississsippi State and says he’s used to blocking for others, so the transition to fullback won’t be difficult.
“I had to block for my other running back there,” he told CBSSports. “I just love playing football, period.”
He’d still like to carry the ball, but believes in a dual role he can help the team better – and help his own cause for earning a roster spot.
“I’m still a workhorse and that’s final, but whatever they ask me to do that’s what I’m going to do,” Dixon said. “I am a team player.”
Gore this week said having a deep backfield and a spirited competition this training camp is a good thing, not a bad thing.
“Everybody knows they’re all pretty talented,” Gore told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Ron Kroichick of his backfield mates. “That makes our team better, when you see good players at whatever position. That’s how you know how good your team is getting.”