Playing fullback in the National Football League might be a lost art to some degree, but that’s not the case with the San Francisco 49ers.
The second-year player, selected with the No. 211 overall pick in the seventh-round of the 2011 NFL Draft, went on to become a Pro Bowl alternate in his first year playing fullback.
In college, Miller starred at Central Florida as a two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. Miller prepared to be a pass-rusher and special teams contributor entering the pros, but the 49ers, had a different idea in mind.
Flash forward a full year from the draft and the 6-foot-2, 248-pounder looks and acts the part as a professional fullback.
Now, with the 49ers in the midst of Organized Team Activities, Miller is using the non-contact period of the offseason to refine his developing fullback skills.
“I think the OTAs have been really good for me,” admitted Miller, who carried the ball four times for eight yards and added 11 catches for 83 receiving yards with one touchdown as a rookie. “Last year I was so focused on learning the playbook, it was hard for me to really focus on technique, alignments, footwork and things like that.
“This year, this time with the coaches has been great for working on the smaller things that weren’t as important during the season.”
One of the biggest indications of Miller’s growth as an offensive player is his consistent mentorship of undrafted rookie
The two are in constant communication during OTA sessions.
“Bruce is who what I want to be,” said Bell, who also has a defensive background as a former linebacker for the Iowa State Cyclones in 2009 before he decided on transferring schools. “He opened his arms up and welcomed me in as a 49er. It just makes this transition that much easier.
“This guy he could easy push me off to the side, but he’s never been like that. He’s been helpful, welcoming and always wanting to see the best out of me as a player.”
The collaboration between the only two fullbacks on San Francisco’s roster has been mutual according to Miller.
“The good thing about Cameron is he’s got a lot of experience playing the fullback position,” Miller said. “He’s a good player, so when I’m talking to him and teaching him things I know, he kind of has that concept already. It’s easier for him to grasp hold of it, so it’s been good.”
Despite experiencing immense growth in his first year in the professional ranks, Miller dedicated himself to improving in all areas of his position.
In previous offseasons, Miller spent a great deal of time firing out of his three-point stance. Back then, however, those get-offs were made in a defensive end’s stance looking to track down opposing quarterbacks.
Now, Miller’s three-point stance is that of a fullback. The emphasis on firing off the ball remains the same, the footwork, stance, and steps are much different though.
“I definitely like to get in my stance and work on my footwork, make sure I’m able to go. It’s kind of like a get-off,” Miller said, pausing for a moment, almost as if to picture in his head some of his 27 career collegiate quarterback sacks.
“It’s not the exact same thing, but I do work all my footwork drills out of my stance so I can be comfortable down there.”
In addition, pass-catching has been a key talent Miller’s been looking to improve over the offseason. Miller’s lone score as a rookie, a 30-yard reception on an out of the backfield wheel route against the Washington Redskins, proved Miller could develop into a receiving threat for Greg Roman’s offensive attack.
But in order to ensure he continues to develop in that area, Miller spent a great of time catching passes out of a jugs machine, with and without a helmet.
“I’m trying to get used to catching the ball with a helmet on again,” Miller explained. “You get used to catching without a helmet and then you get all these (face-mask) bars in front of you and so it looks different coming out (of the machine).”
Work ethic has always been instilled in Miller, but it’s only increased from his dealings with position coach Tom Rathman, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the 49ers. Another year working with Rathman, the first full NFL offseason under Rathman’s guidance, has only increased Miller’s confidence heading into his second season.
Miller also appreciates his running backs coach wearing a team-issued blue collar work shirt to every 49ers practice.
In Miller’s mind, Rathman’s attire sets the tempo for the position group.
“That is definitely the mindset of our room from top to bottom,” Miller explained on the running back’s emphasizing hard work. “From Coach (Rathman),
Working hard is one thing, but the fullbacks and running backs are going about it in the right way.
For Miller, an offseason under the watch of NFL coaches has only increased his understanding of the offense and his role within the system.
“I feel like a lot of this right now without physically beating up your body is really good work,” Miller said. “Just with helmets on, it’s about aiming points, feet and hands, learning how to move around with the offensive line and not get in anybody’s way. We got a lot of great stuff done without actually beating ourselves up.”