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Anthony Dixon States His Case

Posted Aug 29, 2012

Following his big-time performance in last week’s preseason win in Denver, Anthony Dixon was the talk of the 49ers locker room on Tuesday.

Dixon carried the ball 13 times for 58 yards and had a 26-yard touchdown in the 29-24 win, putting together the latest performance in what’s been an impressive training camp and preseason.

Heading into camp, Dixon faced an unprecedented challenge in his third NFL season, as the 49ers brought in Brandon Jacobs, LaMichael James and Rock Cartwright to bolster the backfield. Dixon served as the third-string tailback behind Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in 2011, but recognized the situation and pulled Coach Jim Harbaugh aside after a walkthrough during the offseason.

His message to Harbaugh was simple: Let me play fullback.

After some discussion, the coaching staff agreed to let Dixon try his hand at the new position, in addition to his roles as a running back and special teamer. If the Broncos contest was any indication, Dixon can handle his new responsibilities.

“I made a couple plays at the fullback position,” Dixon said. “Got a couple pancake blocks, was sound on special teams pretty much and that’s what I wanted. That’s what I worked all offseason for and I went out there and made it happen.”

The Mississippi native is never short for words, but he looked to the profound prose of Martin Luther King for inspiration earlier this year. In late May, Dixon wrote the phrase, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands at moments of comfort and confidence, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy,” on the team’s daily quote board in the locker room.

It was the beginning of offseason team activities and King’s words spoke to Dixon and his challenge.

“I knew our running back room was full of good players,” Dixon said. “I knew I was fighting an uphill battle to make the team and that’s all it was about. Every day coming in and showing people that I wasn’t going to waver or I wasn’t going to quit or I wasn’t going to get a bad attitude.

“I just kept a smile on my face and kept working. Just controlling what I can control.”

On Tuesday, it was offensive coordinator Greg Roman who offered words of encouragement. Speaking to KNBR, Roman said, “I think we can look to ‘Dix’ to have his most productive season as a Niner, because he’s really stepped up his preparation. He’s another guy that’s really maturing as a player.”

It was a ringing endorsement from Roman, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Dixon has already locked up a spot on the 53-man roster. A lot can change between now and the final whistle of Thursday’s preseason finale at Candlestick against the San Diego Chargers.

“I don’t take it for granted,” Dixon said. “You never know what could happen. But I worked all offseason for the opportunities coach gave me and for the chance to be productive. I feel like that’s what I did and that’s what I’m trying to continue. No matter what my assignment is each week, just to get it done and be right.”

Coaches aren’t the only ones who have noticed Dixon’s transformational offseason. Other young players who are fighting to make the final roster like second-year lineman Mike Person have been impressed with Dixon’s work ethic.

“Absolutely,” Person said. “He sets a great example for many guys including myself, just work every day and not worry about the little things that you can’t control.”

Dixon was already a classic member of the “Tony Montana Squad” – demonstrating his energetic dance moves before every kick-off last year – and hopes to be part of Brad Seely’s vaunted unit again in 2012. On Tuesday, Harbaugh commended Dixon’s ability to contribute in the third phase of the game.

“Core guy. He’s on all the units, all the important units,” the 49ers coach said. “And every single one of those phases is important. But, especially the punt, especially the kickoff coverage, those two in particular. And he’s evolved. It’s been a very good process for him, in terms of his special teams play.”

For his transition to fullback, Dixon is surrounded by a couple of a quality mentors. Running backs coach Tom Rathman still stands as one of the greatest fullbacks in franchise history, while Bruce Miller was named a Pro Bowl alternate in his rookie season in 2011.

Per usual, Rathman spoke to Dixon following the Broncos game and told the young back to keep on working without worrying. Dixon has also been harping on Miller throughout practice to get some tips on how to be an effective lead-blocker.

“Me and Bruce, we’ve always been good friends,” Dixon said. “When I made the switch, he was all down for it. He’s definitely been helping with everything I needed; any questions and Bruce can pretty much answer them. That’s what we do. We go out there and work and help each other get better.”

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