Sakamoto: Why 49ers Should Consider Playing Bruce Miller at Inside Linebacker


Versatile. Coachable. Team player. Those are three words how I would describe San Francisco 49ers TE Bruce Miller. A player who has been highly praised for his unique skill-set, it remains unclear where Miller fits in with the new coaching staff.

Miller, who has been the team’s starting fullback since entering the NFL as a seventh-round pick (No. 211) of the 2011 NFL Draft, will see a different position in 2016, playing tight-end. However, due to TE Vance McDonald likely winning the starter’s role, where does that leave Miller? On the bench? He’s too good to be left off the field, so my suggestion would be converting the “football player” to inside linebacker.

Wishful thinking? Maybe not.

I spoke with a former player who asked to remain anonymous, and he told me the 49ers were planning on using Miller as the team’s ’emergency’ inside linebacker back in 2012 [New England Patriots Game].

“We were gassed and we needed healthy bodies and Big Bruce played defensive end in college so it made sense.”

The 49ers clearly have a need at the inside linebacker position to pair with All-Pro ILB NaVorro Bowman. A position that was once considered the backbone of the team with ILB Patrick Willis and ILB Chris Borland, it’s now a glaring weakness (besides Bowman), as both players abruptly retired.

Currently, the 49ers are playing musical chairs at inside linebacker in what’s been commonly labeled a three-man race. That race includes ILB Michael Wilhoite, ILB Gerald Hodges, and ILB Ray-Ray Armstrong.

Wilhoite is a “what you see is what you get type of a player.” He won’t hurt the team by having mental lapses but he won’t make those killer tackles for loss either [gets swallowed up by blockers]. Hodges has the skill-set to be a good player but often times takes poor angles to ball-carriers while missing too many open-field tackles. Armstrong has the athleticism to thrive, but can he be consistent throughout the course of a full 16-game schedule?

Too many Forever Faithful fail to realize that Miller was a two-time Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year defensive end at Central Florida, before converting to fullback in the NFL. To think that Miller can’t transition from defensive end to inside linebacker is naive.

Let’s put my point into perspective. It’s hard enough for a rookie to come into the NFL and make a Super Bowl contending 53-man roster as a seventh-round pick. It’s exponentially harder when you’re learning a new position [Fullback] at the highest level on the opposite side of the ball [Offense].

Simply put, it’s easier to convert a defensive end to inside linebacker then it is to convert a defensive end to fullback. But this move makes even more sense on so many levels. Why? Because Miller has now cross-trained at both fullback and tight-end due to his versatility – essentially giving him an inside track of understanding the flip side of concept/depth routes from the offense’s perspective.

When playing inside linebacker a lot of tackles are made off of read-and-react. Miller being a savvy “football player” already has an understanding of what offense’s are trying to do (having played multiple positions FB/TE). Not to mention, he would instantly be an upgrade in pass-coverage, as his quick feet allows him to move in space, Miller should have no problems matching up with tight-ends or running backs coming out of the flat.

Today, I asked Miller what his thoughts were in regards to my inside linebacker idea, and Miller had a big smile on his face.

Without saying a word, Miller dropped in a two-point stance with his hands on his thighs and then said, “That would be cool.” I then asked if he would be open to it and he said with no conviction, “YES!”

However, Miller is likely too far behind in the learning curve, as he would first need to get up to speed on defensive assignments and Coach O’Neil’s playbook. But Miller has the mental capacity do it. He’s defied the odds, switching multiple positions while still being one of the team’s special-teams aces.

A team that is looking to field the best 11 players – why not give Miller a chance to shine on the defensive side of the ball? A player who has been cross-trained on offense (NFL) while thriving on defense in college, this makes more sense to at least toy with the idea. What does the team have to lose?

While at UCF, Miller set school records including 42.5 tackles for loss while ranking 4th all-time in sacks (26.0).

Ryan is the Founder/CEO of, 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 or call him at (408) 622-0996.