Three and Out: Kap opens up, WR competition helps 49ers
Colin Kaepernick: "He's someone who has no fear running through holes, taking on linebackers. He kind of lives for that type of thing." (USATSI)
Programming note: Watch Thursday’s 49ers press conference with Jim Harbaugh, Andy Lee and NaVorro Bowman streaming live at 11:55 a.m. right here
SANTA CLARA – Anthony Dixon was the 49ers’ No. 3 halfback in 2011, and his spot on the next season’s roster was in serious doubt.
The 49ers returned the two players in front of him – Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter – and added rookie LaMichael James and veteran Brandon Jacobs to the competition in 2012.
[RELATED: No Miller, no problem for Kap]
That’s why, Dixon was motivated to ask running backs coach Tom Rathman if he could also work at fullback. It proved to be a wise decision, as Dixon’s value increased with his ability to back up at both spots in the backfield while continuing to be a core special-teams player.
Now, Dixon is in line to see a significant increase in playing time due to Bruce Miller’s season-ending fractured left shoulderblade.
“I’m pretty comfortable with it,” Dixon said of his responsibilities at fullback. “I’ve been playing it for two years and I’m ready.”
The 49ers certainly did not draft Dixon in the sixth round of the 2010 draft because of his blocking. During his four-year career at Mississippi State, Dixon rushed for 3,994 yards and 42 touchdowns. In fact the knock on the 235-pounder was that he often went out of his way to avoid contact. Often, he did not use his size to his advantage with a power game.
Now, his job will be to be to seek contact against linebackers as a lead-blocker for running back Frank Gore.
“Throwing a lead block, I didn’t know what it meant in college or high school,” Dixon said. “But throwing a lead block to open up a touchdown, that’s exciting to me now. Just learning to get excited about new stuff. That’s what I’m doing.”
Dixon’s most productive NFL season was his first. He gained 237 yards on 70 rushing attempts. Most of his yards came after Gore sustained a season-ending fractured hip and Brian Westbrook took over as the primary back.
Dixon has just 61 yards rushing on 26 carries this season -- the final year of his original four-year contract. He is not expected to step in and play as much as Miller, who was on the field for nearly 60-percent of the 49ers’ offensive snaps. But quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he believes Dixon has the right mindset.
“He's someone who has no fear running through holes, taking on linebackers,” Kaepernick said. “He kind of lives for that type of thing. So I'm excited to see what he can do when he gets in there. He normally has a pretty good feel for the game. To see him in there as a full-time guy or however the end up working it out, it'll be interesting to see how he plays game day.”
Dixon said he speaks daily with Gore about what the nine-year veteran expects from his lead blocker. Gore is most comfortable when running out of the I-formation with a fullback in front of him.
“We talk every day: In the steam room, in the hot tub,” Dixon said. “We communicate. That’s how we get on the same page and do good work. We’re communicate all the time. We’ll probably talk (Wednesday night) some more, maybe through text messages. We always communicate, and I already know what he’s looking for.”
The 49ers have a number of different ways they can spread out the play time to compensate for the loss of Miller, who will not require surgery and should make a full recovery for the start of the team’s offseason program.
The 49ers are likely to use more three-receiver sets with Mario Manningham. The reserve tight ends – Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Derek Carrier -- could see more action. And newly signed defensive lineman Will Tukuafu or other defensive players, such as linebacker Michael Wilhoite, could have offensive roles on game days.
“It’s going to be by committee,” Dixon said. “I don’t want to reveal the whole game plan, but coach has a plan and I’m just one of the options in it. We’re going to switch it up and keep the defense honest. Losing Bruce is going to be tough, but we learned a lot from Bruce, so we’ll be able to move on.”
In line image of Anthony Dixon provided by The Associated Press