Fullback Bruce Miller suffered what Jim Harbaugh indicated was a serious injury to his left shoulder blade late in Sunday's win over the Buccaneers, and he likely will miss the rest of the season and the playoffs. "It doesn't look good for now," Harbaugh told reporters at his noon press conference. "But it's something he'll heal from."
The injury is a significant blow to a team that has leaned heavily on Miller, not only as a lead blocker for Frank Gore, but as an H-back and pass catcher. "Very significant," Harbaugh said of Miller's role. "He does so many things in the protection and the run game. Receiving out of the backfield. He is a multi-talented, multi-use player. Special teams contributor on two, three phases, so it's a loss."
Harbaugh said the 49ers will consider re-signing fullback Owen Marecic, who spent four games with San Francisco earlier this year and who played for Harbaugh at Stanford. But later in the day, a league source said that Marecic would not sign with the team.
Anthony Dixon also is an option. He filled in at fullback after Miller left Sunday's game. However, Dixon is more natural fit at tailback, and even at that position he has had to learn to be more aggressive in the way he hits the line of scrimmage. Another in-house option is inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite, who spent some time learning fullback in the offseason.
Miller currently ranks third on the 49ers in both receptions and receiving yards. When long-time No. 2 tight end Delanie Walker left for Tennessee via free agency, Miller took on a larger role at the beginning of the season. That workload hasn't let up, especially after two of the team's tight ends, Garrett Celek (hamstring), and Vance McDonald (ankle) suffered injuries late in the season.
The 49ers used a second-round pick on McDonald in the hope that he could replace Walker as the team's No. 2 tight end. That process, however, has been slow. McDonald was primarily a pass catcher at Rice University, and as expected his blocking ability has been suspect this season. McDonald was inactive in Sunday's game.
As the NFL turns into a pass-dominated league, few teams rely on a fullback anymore. The 49ers are an exception. They, the Seahawks and the Panthers are the only three teams with more rushing attempts this season than passing attempts. The 49ers' differential -- 452 runs to 362 passes -- is greater than the others'.
Last season, Miller played 45 percent of the team's offensive snaps. This year that number is 60 percent, although he has not been playing as much on special teams as he did in 2011 and 2012. Sunday's injury occurred in Tampa, where Miller was a star defensive end for the University of Central Florida. He has played particularly well during the 49ers' current, four-game winning streak.
-- Matt Barrows