With only two games left in the season, the 49ers had to find a replacement for injured fullback Bruce Miller who was familiar with their offense. So they signed Will Tukuafu, who primarily has been a defensive linemen during his career but who played 90 snaps for San Francisco at fullback last season. In announcing that Tukuafu signed a two-year deal today, the 49ers listed his position as fullback, not defensive lineman/fullback as it had been in the past.
Tukuafu, who has been with the 49ers since 2010, suffered a knee injury before the start of the season. He signed an injury settlement with the team in September and was released. That settlement, however, expired this month and the 49ers were free to re-sign him.
Miller suffered a broken left scapula when he was hit by Tampa Bay defensive back Keith Tandy following a reception in the fourth quarter. The 49ers will place him on injured reserve, ending his season, including the playoffs. Miller is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for training camp.
Miller not only was Frank Gore's lead blocker, he has been the team's third-leading receiver. Tukuafu has surprisingly good hands for a man who weighs close to 300 pounds. But he is unlikely to fill Miller's role by himself. Instead, look for the 49ers to take a by-committee approach to the position with Tukuafu, Anthony Dixon and Derek Carrier all filling in in various ways. Tukuafu presumably would specialize in short-yardage situations.
The 49ers also have the option of using more three-wide receiver sets than they have in the past. The team's third wide receiver, Mario Manningham, has one catch for two yards in the last three games. Manningham played only 14 of 74 offensive snaps Sunday against the Buccaneers. Miller played 41 snaps, despite leaving the game with seven minutes remaining.
On Monday, Jim Harbaugh mentioned former Stanford pupil Owen Marecic, a favorite of Harbaugh's, as a possibility for replacing Miller. "Hopefully (he's) in route," he said of Marecic coming to Santa Clara for a workout. Marecic, however, never made it to Santa Clara.
-- Matt Barrows