How the Loss of Bruce Miller Impacts the 49ers

There aren't many fullbacks in the NFL today that play as big of a role as Bruce Miller has played this season for the San Francisco 49ers. Miller suffered a shoulder injury on Sunday against the Seahawks that will most likely end his season. With many NFL teams turning to an aerial attack rather than a ground attack, fullbacks have become somewhat unnecessary. Many teams have turned away from even having a fullback on their roster. Teams figure that if the majority of the time they're going to throw the ball, why use a valuable roster spot on a position they may not even use? Elite teams such as the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots don't currently have a fullback listed on the depth chart. The fullback position is a dying art in the NFL.

Having said all that, the 49ers use Bruce Miller routinely, and he plays a very large role in all aspects of their offense. Miller is used in the running game as the lead blocker for Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, and LaMichael James. He has also been one of Colin Kaepernick's most reliable pass catchers all season. Miller is currently third on the team in receptions and receiving yards, which is very rare to find for any fullback in the entire league. He displays a great ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and when lined up out wide as a wide receiver.

Miller brings a toughness to the 49ers offense that suits the team very well in a ground and pound style offense. With Frank Gore not catching as many balls out of the backfield as in the past, Miller has stepped up and become that safety valve that Colin Kaepernick has often relied upon. Miller may not play the flashiest game and have the best statistics running or catching the ball, but he gets the job done. Replacing him will not be an easy task, but the 49ers always seem to find a way to make up for injuries under Jim Harbaugh.

One possible replacement for Miller currently on the 49ers roster is veteran running back and special teams player Anthony Dixon. Dixon has given fullback a shot in the past and could step up as a possible replacement for Miller. It will be very difficult for Dixon to fill Miller's shoes since he doesn't have much experience at fullback in the past, but Dixon has the size and pure talent to be an effective fullback. He is one of the most versatile players on the 49ers and was considered to be a guy on the trading block right before this years trade deadline because of how many different ways he could be used as a player.

The 49ers also re-signed Will Tukuafu after news of Miller's season ending injury. The 49ers have tried to convert Tukuafu from a defensive linemen to a fullback in the past and may continue to try to do so for the remainder of this season. This move will most likely be for just the remainder of the season unless Tukuafu proves that he can be a long term answer as a fullback. As stated previously, fullbacks have become a lot more rare in the NFL, and the 49ers would probably not want to use two roster spots on them next season with Tukuafu and Miller.

The best answer at this point in the season would be to give Anthony Dixon the first chance at being the starting fullback. Dixon has been an all around solid player since he joined the 49ers and he could prove to be that much more valuable if he is able to fill Bruce Miller's shoes for the remainder of the season. If anything, Dixon can be a solid blocker and short yardage runner if the 49ers choose to use him in that fashion. Luckily for the 49ers, all of their offensive weapons are back and healthy and Colin Kaepernick should not be fazed by the loss of Miller. Colin Kaepernick will have plenty of weapons available including Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham, Anquan Boldin, and Vernon Davis so it won't be an injury the 49ers can't overcome, but it could definitely have an impact on the offense.

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