49ers Jeff Nixon On Playing Tight End: “You Got To Be A Complete Player.”

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

No job is safe in the NFL. Job security is non-existent, and the plethora of talent continues to rise year in and year out. Every NFL player understands this harsh truth. But they can overcome this obstacle by displaying one simple skill set. Versatility.

A word that is often used to describe multi-dimensional players, versatility continues to be an integral part in making a team’s 53-man roster. You don’t have to look far to find a general manager who shares the same belief system. Since taking over the San Francisco 49ers war room in 2010, GM Trent Baalke cites versatility more times than not during his draft pressers.

And apparently new San Francisco 49ers HC Chip Kelly agrees.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to catch up with the 49ers offensive position coaches. From OLC Pat Flaherty to WRC Bob Bicknell, we had the opportunity to meet all the team’s top positional coaches before they kicked off their first day of mandatory minicamp.


However, I wanted to get the inside scoop on the tight-end position. A three-way race between TE Vance McDonald, TE Bruce Miller, and TE Garrett Celek, it remains to be seen who will win the starting job.

Trying to dig up more inside information, I went straight to the source to meet with TEC Jeff Nixon.

I wasted no time. I asked Coach Nixon straight up. What’s the single most important thing that’s required to play tight-end under a HC Chip Kelly operated offense. His answer. Versatility.

“Under HC Chip Kelly using a lot of one and two tight-end sets [11 and 12 personnel], you really got to be a complete player. I think that’s the main thing we’re looking for,” Nixon said.

“I think you really got to be a solid in-line blocker. But you got to be able to pass-protect when called upon, be able to run routes, and make plays down the field as a pass-receiver.”

Last month, I wrote a blog post in which I believed versatility was paramount in Kelly’s offense. It turns out that appears to be the case. That blog post which was created before the announcement of Miller being converted from fullback to tight-end – I can’t help but think that Miller is now the front-runner to win the starting job simply due to his versatility as a “football player.”


“It’s been a pleasant surprise for me [regarding Miller’s position change],” Nixon said. “I coached running backs a lot throughout my career and for a fullback [Miller] to come out and do some of the things he’s done, it’s been fairly impressive.”

But with that being said, the job won’t come easy, as Miller still needs polishing coming off his stem [route tree] on longer depth routes.

“At first, it was a little different for him catching the ball 20-25 yards down the field, as opposed to catching balls coming out of the flat and quick hook routes (routes closer to line of scrimmage),” Nixon said. “So that was the adjustment the first week. He’s really worked hard at it.”

But Nixon believes that Miller should be ready Week 1, as he spoke highly of Miller’s expedited learning curve. Nixon said he was so impressed with Miller’s route running that if he didn’t know, he would’ve thought Miller had been converted to tight-end a few years ago. He’s learning that well.

“He’s pretty smooth running routes down the field [seams, posts, speed-outs, digs, curls]. He has a good feel for what we’re trying to accomplish as a true tight-end in the pass game. He’s done a really nice job.” (Just watch my video above and you can see where Miller shines).

As the 49ers continue to mold their personnel, I think it’s safe to say Miller will be the starting tight-end moving forward. A player who easily transitioned from a college defensive-end to fullback in the NFL, to now tight-end – look for Miller to win that job, as he’s no stranger to a position change.

Many of you have generously asked for a place where you can contribute to NinerFans.com as a way to show your appreciation for the work we do.

We’ve been reluctant to do it in year’s past but due to our increasing overhead, feel now is the time to start taking you up on those offers, as we continue to grow.

Thank you all for the continued love and support. We wouldn’t be here without you! Go 49ers

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of NinerFans.com, 49ers Beat Writer, Live Game Day Correspondent for Bleacher Report and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, 95.7 The Game, National Football Post, Sports Illustrated, FanSided Network, ESPN Radio, CBS Sports 810, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at ryan@NinerFans.com or call him at (408) 622-0996.