Anthony Dixon isn’t one of those quiet, lead-by-example types. On the field, he’ll celebrate after a good run or a crushing block. Off it, he’s noticed as much for his hair (dreads with the tips dyed blonde) as his commercials (rapping about a doctor who does Lasik surgery on the radio). Dixon’s also someone who’ll speak his mind. While sometimes in the militaristic world of the NFL that sort of thing doesn’t fly, something Dixon said to his coaches may end up keeping him on the San Francisco 49ers.
Early on in camp, Dixon saw the proverbial writing on the wall. Or perhaps he read it in a blog or a newspaper story. Regardless, most people figured Dixon wasn’t going to be a 49er at the beginning of the upcoming regular season, for a variety of reasons. The 49ers have more talent in their backfield this year than last, and Dixon’s last impression (getting stopped on third and short against the Giants) didn’t help his chances. So Dixon went to Jim Harbaugh during an offseason practice and did something about it.
“It was kind of like one of them days where I just kind of went to him as we was getting done with the walk through. I didn’t really like the reps that I was getting and I was like, ‘Coach, you know, let me do fullback or something. I just want to get on the field more.’ And he was like, ‘Okay.’ All the coaches, they got kind of excited about it. I just ran with it,” Dixon said.
I asked Dixon how much his blocking has improved since the beginning of camp.
“I’m going to say a whole lot, because I’m learning what it means to be a fullback. What it means to lead block. Just all the little details that it takes to be a fullback. I had never really just concentrated on it like that. With this being my first time having to focus on it, I think I’m getting better every day,” Dixon said.
Has his experience at fullback made Dixon a more patient runner?
“Yeah, it does. Because now I know what my fullback is doing. I definitely know where he got to be, and it just makes me a smarter player.”
Dixon played very well on Sunday in Denver, which drew notice from the coach Dixon went to that day.
“He’s done a nice job. We talked about it at some length after the ball game the other night,” said Harbaugh, who also talked about Dixon’s contributions on special teams.
“Core guy. He’s on all the units, all the important units. And ever 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.”
Dixon also received a vote of confidence this morning from offensive coordinator Greg Roman on KNBR (about 10 minutes in):
“I think we can look to Dix to have his most productive season as a Niner, because he’s really stepped up his preparation. I think he’s another guy that’s really maturing as a player. We got him in multiple roles right now, fullback, halfback. That’s really expanding his lens in terms of the game. He’s understanding all the aspects of the backfield. But he did a great job on some of those runs the other night. He was just hammering their defense. He took one, had great vision on the one that he took for 20-something yards for the touchdown. He’s doing a good job and he’s having a good camp. We just look for him to continue to develop in that way. But he’s an explosive guy. Dix is an explosive guy. Again, he can do multiple things. He’s doing a really good job blocking, too. He hammered some of their linebackers blocking the other day as well. He’s really come in with a laserbeam focus this year. That’s great to see.”
I’ve mentioned this before, and I’ll probably go back to this well several more times before the end of this season — when the 49ers have players perform different tasks, play different positions, I don’t think it’s just to give flexibility to the roster. I believe Harbaugh and the rest of his staff firmly believe that “expanding” a player’s “lens” by giving them a different view of the field can make a player better. As a runner, Dixon probably would get a chance somewhere else if the 49ers cut him. But as a halfback/fullback/special teams triple threat, he may be too valuable for the 49ers to let go.