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In the four years that Bruce Miller has been with the 49ers, there isn’t one time where I have approached him with a question that he has turned me down, or any member of the media that I know of for that matter. After the worst losses or the best wins, Miller will always spare a minute.
His affable nature is as easy to recognize as his thick mop of red hair.
So when I gave the 49ers media relations staff a list of four or five players I’d like to interview heading into the bye week, it was no surprise that Miller was the choice. What was surprising is that he forgot. We had a noon start time that would give me 30 minutes before the photographer and I had to set up safety Eric Reid for an interview.
Reid is always on time.
I ran into the locker room to see if Miller was holding court on the team’s new ping pong table. Safety Craig Dahl is most often the victim of the backspin Miller sometimes gets off his backhand. But Miller wasn’t there. A media relations member found him in the weight room putting in some extra work.
The 6’2”, 248 pound fullback finally arrived at 12:22. He walked in with an easy gait and the relaxed manner that he’s known for. I jokingly explained that when Reid arrived, he would tell him why we were running late, only I wasn’t really joking. Miller broke out in a huge grin. No problem, he said. I can handle Eric. If that’s the attitude that can block for a future Hall of Famer, I thought, I had no reason not to believe him.
MB: Your head coach said you and Frank Gore have a relationship that is about as close as he’s seen between a fullback and a running back. What is your relationship with Frank?
BM: It’s great. We’ve been teammates now for awhile. Friends for awhile. Just working together building towards one goal, so I think that brings anybody together close. As far as on the field, I just try to constantly learn all the time what he likes to do where he likes to go, the reads that I give him if that’s what he’s expecting. Just continue to build together.
MB: Is that a communication that is more nonverbal now between the two of you on the field
BM: I think so. I think a lot of it is body language if I’m giving him the right read, if we’re reading the same thing together so I think a lot of it is nonverbal body language.
MB: How has he helped make you a better player?
BM: Oh man, a lot. Just teaching. Offense in the backfield all the things that he’s taught me there. Coach Rathman has been huge so it’s just made me a better player.
MB: What’s interesting about your position is you’re not just a blocking fullback. You’re actually in on more pass plays. You’ve been split wide. We’ve seen you in the slot. What exactly is your role in this offense?
BM: Just wild card. (Laughs) You never know. I enjoy that aspect of it. Just line up anywhere, then make that sure I get to the right spot before the ball’s snapped to be able to do my job. But I like the variety and the blocking schemes and then also in the routes getting out in the passing game.
MB: Is that something that’s evolved now that you’re in your fourth year? We all know the story, that you came in as a defensive end and were changed to a fullback. Is that something that year-by-year [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman as well as [runningbacks coach] Tom Rathman have given you more of those responsibilities as they’ve seen you develop?
BM: I think at first you bring a defender in and tell him to run and catch the ball, it doesn’t always work out good. So I think that I felt I built confidence in them and Kap that if they throw me the ball I’ll be able to catch it, and then most importantly, take care of it and not give it away to the defense. I think it was the building of the trust between everyone.
[Eric Reid walks in at this point and sits down in the room. Miller informs him he was late. I’m relieved.]
MB: You’re in your fourth year, and a lot of time it’s said that the third and fourth years in the NFL is when it clicks for a player. Has it clicked for you or what do you need to improve?
BM: I just try to attack the day, the same everyday, as to get better, build, grow in the position. Whatever they ask me to do. They ask me to do different things all the time, so I’m continuously trying to grow into the player that they want me to be. I don’t think it’s clicked. I think we still a long ways to go and can still get a lot better.
MB: Is it more about what you’re now and now what defenses are presenting?
BM: I think so. I think anytime that we execute and do the things that we’re supposed to do, it doesn’t matter what they show us we can get the job done and be successful.
MB: This year with this wide receiving corps, you’re in on more pass plays than you were at this time last year. How has that challenged you?
BM: Well, that’s a challenge for me. If there is one area I feel like I need to grow more it’s in pass protection. That’s one area where Frank comes in as being one of the best in the league, just watching from him and learn. With those weapons we have outside we have to be able to protect Kap and give him time to throw the football.
MB: Your head coach also said, if you can’t get along with Bruce Miller, there is something wrong with you. You’re probably known as the happiest and nicest guy….
BM: Besides Eric.
MB: Yes, besides Eric. Where does that come from?
BM: Ever since I was little being around sports and football, I’ve grown to love the team aspect of it. I love playing the game. But the guys that we have around, the coaches, the guys that I work with, make it fun. So I’m always in a great mood.
MB: I read an article recently on Derek Jeter in which he said he does not address the negativity. Do you need to do that or can you handle whatever is there?
BM: You have to. Football is very tough mentally and physically so you have to be able to switch some things around and take positives from it. You’re not always going to perform the way that you want to, but you can take those things and switch them and make them into positives and learn from them.
MB: How’s Eric on the ping pong table?
BM: Not very good. (laughs)