Central Florida defensive coordinator John Skladany never thought of defensive end Bruce Miller as a future NFL fullback, but he can see why the 49ers do.
Miller has zero experience at the position. But Skladany says he does possess the gritty qualities required to be an effective NFL battering ram.
“The biggest thing is he’s just relentless,” said Skladany, UCF’s linebackers coach this past season and its defensive coordinator during Miller’s freshman year. “He really enjoys that part of the game. He goes and looks for the contact. He just keeps going and going and going. You’re going to have to shoot him to stop him. If he’s going to be blocking, some linebacker is going to have a long day.”
Miller was a migraine for offensive tackles in college. The Niners’ seventh-round draft pick was a four-time all-conference pick and a two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. He finished his career with a school-record 35.5 sacks.
At 6-foot-2, 248 pounds, he was projected to play linebacker in the NFL. But the Niners obviously got other ideas after checking out his ferocity on film.
“They said they wanted to bring somebody in who was tough and could bring a hit every play,” Miller said after he was drafted. “And I think I fit that description pretty well.”
Of course, this begs a question: Is the hard-nosed Miller merely a younger version of one-dimensional San Francisco fullback Moran Norris, 32, who has 66 touches (38 catches, 28 rushes) in 56 NFL starts?
It remains to be seen – remember, Miller has never once lined up at fullback – but the Niners prized versatility in their draft picks. And Miller noted that the 49ers were impressed by the athleticism he flashed at his pro day, “… they did like the way I was running around, moving around,” he said.
There is evidence suggesting Miller has the skills to become a capable pass-catcher and occasional ball-carrier in San Francisco’s West Coast offense.
He was a lightly recruited linebacker out of Woodstock (Ga.) High School and actually caught the eye of former UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable with his athleticism as a tight end. Miller averaged 25.5 yards and scored five touchdowns on 14 catches as a senior at Woodstock.
“He was playing tight end. Running and catching balls and making people miss,” Huxtable said in this Orlando Sentinel article. “He was on the kickoff cover team and he was the first one down there on the kickoff cover team making plays.”
Miller ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds at his pro day – faster than the 4.8 pro-day time of Stanford’s Owen Marecic, the first fullback drafted. As a senior this past season, he scored two touchdowns, running back interceptions from 30 and 15 yards.
“He certainly has all the intangibles to play pro football,” Skladany said. “He’s so competitive, has such a feel for the game and he really is athletic. Wherever somebody puts him, he’ll succeed.”
• Jim Harbaugh said the Niners haven’t ruled out using the rookie fullback as an occasional pass-rusher. Miller alluded to the 49ers’ plans in this article.
“They talked to me a lot about special teams, playing primarily at fullback, but also working in some at outside linebacker in some situational rush packages,” he said.
Skladany believes Miller could be effective playing defense. He mentioned NFL linebackers Joey Porter and Clark Haggans – whom he coached when they were defensive ends at Colorado State – when discussing Miller. He also invoked former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, another undersized college defensive end who starred at linebacker in the NFL.
“I don’t know if Bruce is quite like (those players), but he’s someone along those lines,” he said. “But Bruce and those guys all have one thing in common – they love the game and have the innate ability to play the game.”