SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Frank Gore is quick to point out that a big reason he is on such a nice roll again in San Francisco’s running game is because of Bruce Miller’s timely, hard blocking.
These two work hand in hand, and Gore gets the credit. Miller hardly minds.
“Bruce is a baller, he’s a smart player,” Gore said. “He can catch, he can block.”
An unheralded third-year fullback whose job is considered among the most important in the 49ers’ ground game, Miller has thrived after switching sides of the ball two years ago as a rookie.
He’s making a living in front of Gore — and loves it that way. Miller does more than just block, too: He has nine receptions for 82 yards with his best being a 17-yard catch, and all his regular work on offense this year has cut his role on special teams.
“Frank,” Miller said, smiling as Gore walked by, “having backs like him and Kendall (Hunter) and LaMichael (James), those guys make you look good. And definitely experience, knowing the system, those things help.”
Miller made a key block for Anthony Dixon’s 2-yard touchdown run in Sunday night’s 34-3 home victory against the Houston Texans. Gore ran for 81 yards and a score on 17 carries, while four others had runs of at least 11 yards as the Niners piled up 177 yards rushing in their most balanced performance yet.
“Oh, man, it was an excellent week,” Miller said. “We have so much firepower back there. They make me look good, so it’s fun blocking for them.”
After San Francisco was outscored 56-10 in consecutive losses against Seattle and Indianapolis, the 49ers (3-2) have overwhelmed their opponents 69-14 over the last two games.
And they did it Sunday against a Houston defense then ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
“We were able to pop some runs in the red zone and had some multiple 10-plus gains in the running game and that’s hard to do, especially against any defense in the NFL, but the Texans defense who is extremely good,” coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday.
Miller helped get things going again in the fourth quarter, making a 4-yard reception on the first play as Colin Kaepernick snapped a string of seven straight incompletions.
It took a couple of weeks for this group to find its groove. Gore had no doubts it would happen.
“If it’s that type of game, smashmouth football, we’re willing to do it,” Gore said after Sunday’s win.
Miller said for him the slow start had to do with his technique, footwork and alignment early in the season. Though you’d never know it watching the efficiency with which Gore and the others are now running.
After gaining 60 yards on 20 carries over his first two games, Gore has had a pair of 80-yard rushing performances and a 153-yard effort in a road rout of the Rams on Sept. 26.
Miller has worked closely with running backs coach Tom Rathman to make adjustments.
“I feel great about it,” Miller said. “We’ve been really been effective in the run game, and I think everyone sees what it can do for our passing game.”
Two years ago as a rookie, Miller caught the 49ers’ lone touchdown in a 19-11 win at Washington and emerged as a feel-good story in Harbaugh’s first season.
For Harbaugh, that hasn’t changed one bit — he continues to love and respect Miller more by the day.
Especially considering Miller was open to the idea of converting from defensive end to fullback. That switch earned him a regular job with the two-time reigning NFC West champions, and Miller knows that. He played tight end at Woodstock High in Georgia.
His coaches and teammates admire how seamlessly Miller made the position switch — and how hard he worked.
“One of the real lead stories on our team. He made that switch coming out of college and I couldn’t be more pleased with Bruce,” Harbaugh said. “Someone that has a very special place in my heart and with the team as well.”
He was a dominant defensive end for Central Florida, earning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year honors while becoming the school’s all-time sacks leader with 36. Then, the 49ers told him they wanted to draft him to play fullback.
“Bruce is like our Swiss Army Knife, he does everything from special teams to everything on offense,” Kaepernick said. “Whether it’s blocking, running, catching passes, he’s someone that really makes this offense go and he’s a vital part of it. So, as he develops and as he continues to get better, our offense will continue to get better as well.”
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