Late in the San Francisco 49ers‘ 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 15, fullback Bruce Miller caught a pass out in the flat for a gain of 10 yards. On the play, Miller was hit on the left shoulder by Buccaneers safety Keith Tandy. What looked like a fairly innocent hit turned out to be a great source of discomfort for Miller who left after the play.
On Monday, any hopes that the injury sustained by Miller was minor were dashed when it was announced that Miller had suffered a scapula injury. While in his press conference coach Jim Harbaugh did not state how long and how much time Miller would miss, all signs point to Miller missing the rest of the season as the 49ers are scheduled to bring in and workout Owen Marecic, a player they brought in for a workout during training camp.
While the fullback position has been devalued if not eliminated altogether by many teams, the fact of the matter is that when used properly a fullback still holds much value and use for an NFL offense and Miller was a prime example of that. In addition to serving as the lead blocker for Frank Gore and the other 49ers running backs, Miller was also a capable and competent pass catcher out of the backfield as he had 25 catches for 243 yards while also getting the occasional carry on short yardage situations.
If that were not enough, Miller also contributed by playing on special teams and his play as been a big part of the improved coverage play of the 49ers special teams here in the 2013 season. With that said, who do the 49ers turn to to fill the void the that will be left by Miller?
As already mentioned, the 49ers plan on bringing in and working out Owen Marecic. But independent of whether or not they end up signing Marecic for the rest of the season, the 49ers have some in-house options they can turn to to fill the void. In particular, expect backup fullback/running back Anthony Dixon to step up and start as the fullback. Dixon is another player who has been a good contributor for the 49ers, and while he is a much better runner than Miller it is not known if he will be able to pass protect and be the pass catching outlet that Miller has become.
Aside from lining Dixon up, expect for Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman to make some formation modifications to make up for the loss of Miller. Expect the 49ers to have a lot more two and three tight end sets with Vance McDonald and Garrett Celek seeing more playing time as a result. In addition, do not be surprised if either McDonald or Celek see time as a halfback. However the 49ers move forward from here to the rest of the season, it will be interesting to see how they adjust and make up for the loss of such a vital under the radar piece like Bruce Miller.