A month ago, I wrote about how Frank Gore is possibly having his best season as a pro. Since then, Gore has done nothing to dispel this belief. In fact, he’s strengthened it. The reasons for this are many. Gore’s vision is certainly key. His ability to cut back is unparalleled. The creativity of Jim Harbaugh’s scheme–which was giving Jon Gruden a veritable orgasm on Monday Night Football–also important. But there is one reason that has gone unheralded, and that reason is probably the most important: Gore’s fullback is the best in the league.
No kidding. Bruce Miller, the collegiate defensive end at the University of Central Florida, is the best blocking fullback in the NFL–according to ProFootball Focus anyway. In terms of overall blocking, no other player even comes close to challenging Miller.
Miller put his blocking skills on display Monday night against a top-five Chicago defense that featured Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs (a duo that has 15 pro bowls between them). Not only did Miller lead the the 49ers rushing attack to 123 yards and a touchdown, but he also showed why he’s the best blocking fullback in the league.
Play: Frank Gore right guard for 13 yards (tackle by Major Wright)
Here we have a clear example of the unorthodox alignments used by Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Other than during 49ers’ games, how often do you see a variation of the Power-T on first and ten from the opponent’s 32 yard line? The answer is never. Never ever.
Anyways, Will Tukuafu, who is moonlighting as a fullback, will surge through the hole and successfully take on Brian Urlacher ( a truly impressive feat by itself). Miller will follow Tukuafu and essentially swallow Lance Briggs. You know, Briggs. He’s the seven-time pro bowler who the 49ers allegedly tampered with back in 2008. Yeah, Miller takes him out.
Go on. Try to find Briggs in this picture. You can’t. I initially wanted to call this screenshot “Miller Swallowing Briggs,” but the innuendo was too risque. Still, that is essentially what Miller has done. Because of Miller and Tukuafu, Gore will go 13 yards before being touched.
Play: Frank Gore up the middle for 3 yards (tackle by Tim Jennings and Stephen Paea)
You think the Bears are expecting run here? Chicago will bring one more than the 49ers can block, which likely explains the paltry three-yard gain. In any case, Miller is going to find his old friend, Lance Briggs, again.
Miller again handles Briggs. Unfortunately, Tim Jennings is right behind Briggs to make the stop. Still, impressive blocking by Miller.
Play: Kendall Hunter left end for 8 yards (tackle by Major Wright)
The 49ers will run a sweep from the off-set I formation. I chose to show this play because it shows Miller’s speed. He’s able to get outside the hash marks and set the edge before Bears’ linebacker Nick Roach (#53) can. If he doesn’t set the edge, then Hunter is likely tackled by Roach a modest gain.
There’s nothing particularly spectacular about the block itself. He doesn’t dominate Roach in the same way he did Briggs. Still, it is effective.
This is perhaps the epitome of Miller’s play. It’s not spectacular by any stretch. He’s not going to run the ball, nor will he provide much help in the pass game (outside of blocking, of course), but he’s going to block the hell out of his opponents. He’s a throwback player. A Tom Rathman. A Daryl Johnston. A Larry Csonka. Fullbacks like Miller are a dying breed. They’ve been replaced by the more versatile Marcel Reeces and James Caseys. Because of this, Miller’s contributions will likely continue to go unnoticed. But this is fitting of a player of like Miller. He’s a relic of a lost time. And he’s a good one at that.