SANTA CLARA – If Bruce Miller’s new position sticks, gone are the days of the down-to-down bone-jarring collisions as a lead-blocker from the fullback position.
And that’s quite all right with Miller, who turns 29 in August. He is hoping a dramatic change to his role with the 49ers will lead to a sixth season with the club that selected him in the seventh round of the 2011 draft and promptly converted him from defensive end to the other side of the ball.
Chip Kelly never had a listing for a fullback on his depth charts during three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles – a fact Miller said he realized on the first day the 49ers hired the coach.
“I paid attention to what they (the Eagles) were doing and watched them quite a bit, so I knew right away that my position was going to change pretty dramatically,” Miller said. “If anything, it was going to be more situational. But I was going to have a big change.”
Miller might have been curious about the team’s intention for him, and he found out on April 4 when he reported to the 49ers’ offseason program and immediately went into the meeting area with running backs coach Tom Rathman.
“My first day in here, I went to the back with the running backs and Tom told me, ‘You’re going to sit over there with those guys.’ That was the first time I heard about it,” Miller said.
Already anticipating things would be different, Miller had already set out to get lighter, more agile and improve his cardiovascular condition. Miller is still listed at 248 pounds, but he said he has dropped 15 pounds since the beginning of last season.
“I knew I was going to have to be able to run and move around a little better than I have in the past,” Miller said.
Despite his position change when he entered the NFL, Miller proved to be a capable receiver -- a skill he showed immediately upon reporting to the "Camp Alex" practices at San Jose State that former quarterback Alex Smith organized at San Jose State during the 2011 lockout. In his career, Miller has 77 receptions for 734 yards and three touchdowns. As a runner, Miller carried just 28 times for 62 yards and one touchdown.
Miller solidified his spot with the 49ers since 2011 as Frank Gore’s lead-blocker. Gore rushed for at least 1,100 yards in each of the four seasons he was paired with Miller in the backfield. Gore also scored 29 touchdowns on the ground during that time.
Miller said there has been some talk about taking on some H-back responsibilities. But at least for now, he is positioned close to the line of scrimmage or in the slot and spending all of his meeting time with the tight ends.
“I’m lining up differently . . . getting out into route combinations a little bit more,” Miller said. “Blocking at the line of scrimmage has been different -- I think better. It’s just been different.”
After years of getting a running start and throwing his body into defensive linemen and linebackers, Miller said he is fine with that alteration to his game.
“I just enjoy blocking closer to the line of scrimmage,” he said.