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Miller, Backs Focus on Pass Protection

Posted Aug 2, 2013

Bruce Miller said working on pass protection is his primary focus this month and beyond.


Patrick Willis suffering a hand injury this week was a significant training camp storyline. How the 49ers linebacker suffered it – during a one-on-one blitz pickup drill with Bruce Miller – could be an important development for the young fullback throughout the upcoming season.

Miller, a third-year pro, spends the majority of his practice time battling linebackers and defensive lineman in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defensive scheme. When speaking of his battle with Willis, an All-Pro inside linebacker, Miller was modest before Friday’s practice session. But if holding Pro Bowlers at bay is any indication, Miller is improving.

“I didn’t know he was injured. If anybody was injured, I thought it was me,” said Miller, a former college defensive end at UCF who is actually eight pounds heavier than his 240-pound teammate. “It was just a one-on-one pass rush, and I’m not really sure what happened.

“It just all happened so fast. He hit his hand on me. I watched the tape. We got tied up, and you can’t really see what happened. It was bang, bang.”

[ PHOTOS - TRAINING CAMP: AUG. 1 ]

There are few players Miller will block in practice larger than a new teammate, Lawrence Okoye. Of the 6-foot-6, 304-pound first-timer on the football field, Miller deadpanned, “He is big and strong. That’s for sure.”

Measurements aside, Miller said working on pass protection is his primary focus this month and beyond. Rarely will the ball be coming his way on a handoff or via the pass – he rushed five times and caught 12 balls in 16 games last season – so he has reason to narrow his focus.

“I think it is still the biggest part that I can improve in,” he said. “Going against guys like that I have been able to get better.”

Nine-year veteran Frank Gore, the running back Miller most often lines up in front of or alongside, said his teammate was plenty capable in this regard a year ago – with a caveat.

“In practice, if he doesn’t get a block,” Gore said, “I know in the game he will make the block.”

[ RELATED - GORE: 49ERS 'BETTER' IN 2013 ]

The fundamentals of blocking extend to Gore and all of San Francisco’s running backs. Through training camp thus far, Miller said the returns are all good: Gore is his usual pancaking self, while rookie D.J. Harper, a Boise State product, has impressed the veterans. Then there is second-year running back LaMichael James, who added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason.

“He definitely has a little bit more weight,” Miller said of James, the 49ers’ second-round pick in 2012. “You can tell when he makes contact: He doesn’t really go backward, he’s going forward, puts the defender back in his shoes. That’s what we talk about all the time, making that contact and putting them in their shoes and not going backwards.”

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