Offensively, the 49ers are a bit of a throwback team, and Bruce Miller is a bit of a throwback player.
It’s been a perfect fit since the day San Francisco drafted the former Central Florida defensive lineman in the seventh round of the 2011 draft.
The Niners, seeing something no one else in the NFL did, converted Miller into a fullback, and Miller has blossomed in that role. Not only has the 6-foot-2, 248-pounder been delivering crushing blocks to spring running backs and quarterbacks for big runs over the past three years, but he’s developed into a fine pass catcher, too. He has 48 catches over the past three seasons, including a career-best 25 in 14 games in 2013 for 243 yards, a career-best 9.7 yard average and 12 first downs.
The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL that regularly still uses a fullback, and Miller has been a big piece of the team’s running-game success. With a fullback, packages with extra linemen and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, the 49ers can pound the ball on the ground.
Said ESPN analyst Matt Williamson of Miller’s value last season: “He’s a real hammer as a blocker. They really stress physicality and want to use a very wide variety of personnel groupings, which he was perfect for. … Lead blocking fullbacks generally are not hard to find, but few do as much as him.”
Williamson was writing about Miller in December of this past season after it was determined that Miller was lost for the remainder of the season because of a broken shoulder blade.
It proved to be a big loss for the 49ers, who used Anthony Dixon and converted defensive lineman Will Tukuafu in his role for the final regular-season games and playoff run.
Now that Miller is healing and should be good to go for spring drills and summer training camp, it’s been reported that one of the things the 49ers would like to do this offseason is lock up Miller to a contract extension.
Bill Williamson of ESPN.com, who covers the 49ers, wrote this week that the Niners have “had preliminary talks of an extension with Miller, and although there is no new deal imminent and there is no timeline, there is mutual interest.”
Williamson also reported that Miller was one of four 49ers to receive raises for 2014 based on playing time and performance in 2013 and prior seasons. Miller reportedly will now earn $1.39 million in 2014.
For the 49ers, it’s money well spent. It’s Miller’s performance that helps players such as Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore shine. He not only contributes on offense in so many ways, but also on special teams as a sure tackler and blocker.
When Miller was lost to injury, head coach Jim Harbaugh admitted it was a loss on multiple levels. Now it appears the team would like to keep Miller around as long as possible.
“He does so many things in the protection and the run game,” Harbaugh told reporters at the time of Miller’s injury. “Receiving out of the backfield. He is a multi-talented, multi-use player. Special teams contributor on two, three phases, so it’s a loss.”