By Jerrell Richardson
With running back Kendall Hunter out for the season, San Francisco will need to find someone to fill his shoes. Before going down with his injury, Hunter was averaging 5.2 yards per carry and had a lot to do with the team’s league-leading ground game, so this will not be an easy task. In their first game without Hunter, the 49ers did out-rush their opponent, but as a team they struggled and it’s no coincidence that they lost. Even with the big play of ability of quarterback Colin Kaepernick under center, the 49ers are still centered around the rush and they will be hard pressed to make a playoff run if they are unable to move the ball on the ground consistently. Fortunately for them, they drafted LaMichael James, who is not only capable, but ready to makes his 49ers debut.
James Is Closest Fit
Head coach Jim Harbaugh was comfortable with a two back rotation this year, and with the team dominating opponents with their rushing attack there was no reason to throw another runner in the mix. By relying on just two players, though, he ultimately put himself in the situation he is in now, scrambling to find someone to help Frank Gore carry the load. With limited options, Harbaugh turned to veteran Brandon Jacobs last week, and the free agent pickup was ineffective to say the least. Jacobs is a big back whose biggest contribution figures to come on goal line or 3rd-and-short situations, so he’s not a real option as a full-time replacement. When Jacobs is in the game, there is no surprise in what San Francisco does, and this makes them far too predictable. For that reason alone, it’s LaMichael James, and not Jacobs, who is the back that can offer the team the smallest downgrade at the position and keep the ship on course.
James went from a Heisman candidate to being inactive for the first 12 games of his NFL career. Instead of pouting, James has used this time to learn from Frank Gore and get himself ready to play. The speedy back is one of the fastest players on the team, but he learned quickly that everyone at this level has world class speed, so the key to being a good runner is to utilize patience in addition to his quickness. He had the raw talent to start from day one, but now has the knowledge to go with the talent, which equals a greater chance for success. If he can take in what Gore has to teach, learn patience and put it together with his blinding speed, then he could become another weapon for a team that’s only weakness is on offense.
Only A Matter of Time
There has been no announcement that James is going to play, but after last week’s rushing performance, San Francisco will have to give the rookie a look to see if he can add some firepower back to the offense — if not this week then very soon. James does provide a multiple of areas in which he can contribute, as his speed makes him a viable threat in the passing game in addition to what he can do carrying the ball.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.