When Chip Kelly was head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, the fullback was as extinct as the dodo bird in his offensive scheme.
At both the University of Oregon and with the Eagles, Kelly employed the spread attack, with multiple wide receivers.
According to reporter Matt Maiocco of Comcast Sportsnet, citing Pro Football Focus, the Eagles never employed a fullback in Kelly’s three seasons and aligned a tight end in the backfield for blocking only 66 times. On the Eagles roster, Kelly carried seven wide receivers and four tight ends, but no fullbacks. As Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee wrote this week, that could be bad news for 49ers fullback Bruce Miller.
So, now that Kelly is head coach of the 49ers, what is Miller's fate?
Miller has been a top-tier performer for the 49ers and played a key role in the Jim Harbaugh-Greg Roman offensive scheme as a devastating blocker in an old-fashioned power-running attack. Miller’s blocking ability opened lanes for running back Frank Gore, and the converted defensive end also proved to be a valuable receiver out of the backfield.
However, Kelly is an offensive innovator, willing to change and adapt if he can see an advantage and at Oregon he in fact used a fullback at times.
In 2012, according to Charles Fischer, a writer for FishDuck.com, a website covering Oregon football, Kelly used a fullback as part of what he called his Jumbo formation, also called “The Beast in the Backfield.” The fullback, Colt Lyerla, was used as a blocker on power runs between the tackles and also as the first option (inside handoff) on read-option plays by quarterback Marcus Mariota.
In fact, Kelly used his fullback in multiple ways, positioning him in various spots in the backfield before the snap.
As Fischer wrote at the time, “It’s old school in theory, but innovative in its application within the spread offense.”
So, based on history, Kelly may be willing to incorporate Miller into his wide-open, spread scheme, especially because it would take advantage of a talented player while also giving defenses something else to think about.