The 49ers didn’t use running back LaMichael James all that much during his rookie year. They’ll be making up for that in 2013.
James could be on track to becoming the team’s top return specialist, both on punts and kickoffs.
“We look at him as a trusted agent back there to field punts and kickoffs,” coach Jim Harbaugh said Sunday, via Cam Inman of Bay Area News Group.
The trust wasn’t there in 2012 when it comes to fielding punts, because James lacked trust in himself.
“I struggled with it,” James said. “But I never held my head low and said I’m going to quit doing it. It was something I said I was going to get out there and get better and do each day.”
After not appearing in the first 12 games of the 2012 season, James started returning kickoffs and contributing to the offense after Kendall Hunter was lost for the season due to injury.
James is now ready to add punt returns to his repertoire, after spending extra time after practice fielding punts with his view of the kick blocked, forcing him to pick the ball up as it comes down.
James also has improved with his north-south running between the tackles, and through pass protection.
“You talk about it, how players from the end of their first year to the start of the second year have the chance to make the greatest amount of gains that they’ll have in their career,” Harbaugh said. “LaMichael is a real, living example of that. It’s noticeable in all areas.”
At a time when the Niners are reeling from injuries, James’ development and versatility provides the team to beat in the NFC an edge that will make them harder to beat.