When Bruce Miller arrived for the first day of meetings in April, he automatically made his way to his familiar spot with the team’s running backs. No, running backs coach Tom Rathman told him, you’re no longer one of us.
Rathman instead pointed him toward the tight ends, the position at which Miller has been lining up all offeason, including in Tuesday’s practice. Miller took several snaps from the line of scrimmage and at one point hauled in a medium-range throw from rookie quarterback Jeff Driskel.
“He’s been doing great,” quarterback Blaine Gabbert said of Miller’s transformation. “He had a big catch today from the slot. He’s just a good football player. … Whatever the team needs Bruce to do, he’s willing to do it.”
Miller said he had an early inkling he might be asked to switch positions considering that Chip Kelly never had a fullback on the roster in three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He began preparing for a bigger pass-catching role as soon as he learned Kelly had been hired, and he said he’s dropped 15 pounds since last year.
Of course, position switches are nothing new to Miller, a pass rusher in college – he had 21 1/2 sacks his last two seasons at Central Florida – whom the 49ers drafted in the seventh round in 2011 with the intent of moving him to fullback in former coach Jim Harbaugh’s power-running system.
So what should he be called now?
“I guess tight end,” Miller said. “Or special teamer. I’ve been doing both.”
O-line shuffle – It’s been assumed that Trent Brown, who started the 49ers’ last two games of 2015 at right tackle, will be the starter there this season.
During Tuesday’s practice, however, veteran Erik Pears was in that role, not Brown. Pears started the first 14 games a year ago but struggled at the position and eventually was moved to guard to make room for Brown.
Joe Staley lined up at his familiar left tackle spot with free-agent acquisition Zane Beadles at guard next to him. Daniel Kilgore was the first-string center with Brandon Thomas playing right guard.
The composition is bound to change throughout the offseason and training camp. For instance, first-round draft pick Joshua Garnett, a guard, is unable to take part in organized team activities because Stanford’s classes are still in session. Garnett, nose tackle Ian Williams (ankle) and kicker Phil Dawson were the only players absent from Tuesday’s voluntary practice.
Et cetera – Jarryd Hayne may be in London trying out for the Fijian Olympic rugby team, but the 49ers still have several players lining up at punt returner. Bruce Ellington, who mostly handled that job a year ago, is back along with DeAndrew White, DeAndre Smelter, DuJuan Harris and rookie Bryce Treggs.
▪ Stanford rookie receiver Devon Cajuste landed awkwardly after making a catch in Tuesday’s practice. He was taken to the training room and did not return.
▪ Kelly said he hasn’t had any interaction with wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who remains a free agent. Boldin has been the team’s top pass catcher the past three seasons.