By Jerrell Richardson
On Super Bowl Sunday, the stars will shine. The player makers will make plays, and the contest will go back and forth as one team tries to gain the upper hand. In the weeks to prepare the teams will study each other, and should have a pretty good feel of what their opponent wants to do during the game. Because of this, it often falls on the shoulders of an unsuspecting player to make the difference. There are several players for San Francisco who can etch their name in 49er lore on February 3rd, and the one who figures to make the biggest difference is LaMichael James. The multi-talented back will have a lot of chances to leave his imprint on the game, and based on his play this post season, as well as his college days, he has shown that he excels when the stakes are high.
Pick Your Poison
The 49ers’ running game is impossible to prepare for. They will line up in the read option, and take what the defense gives them. Both Frank Gore and Colin Kaepernick have been impressive statistically, and have made several big plays throughout the post season. But while they have been grabbing the attention, quietly, LaMichael James has been just as important. Since taking over for Kendall Hunter, James has made it clear that he adds another element to the offense. Not only has he continued to contribute to the offense, he is the only running back left who can give Gore a breather and not change what the team is trying to do offensively. James scored his first NFL touchdown against the Falcons, but still figures to be at the bottom of Baltimore’s list of concerns.
A Real Change Of Pace
Before going down with his injury, Kendall Hunter was averaging a ridiculous 5.2 yards per carry. While the team has missed Hunter’s production, LaMichael James has helped soften the blow, and is actually a better fit in the change of pace scheme. Hunter is very similar to Gore in the way they run the ball, and although the two were effective together, it was because they are both really good. With James in the lineup, there is really a shift in styles when he and Gore are in the game, and it has caused defenders fits. As to be expected, Gore has carried the load in the playoffs, and after finally getting a handle on his unique, patient approach, the opposition must then adjust to the smaller, quick and shifty back.
Offense AND Specials Teams
Not only can James have a big game rushing the ball, but he can make a big play on special teams as well. It usually falls on Ted Ginn Jr. to return kicks, but a series of injures as slowed Ginn this season, and while Ginn is still used on punt returns, the kick return duties have fallen on James, who presents a nightmare in the open field. To make matters worse (or better for San Francisco), this is the same Raven’s special teams that allowed two returns against the Denver Broncos earlier this post season.
James Will Be Ready
For a rookie that was inactive for most of the year, James has come on strong in the latter part of the season, and contributed in the 49ers run to the Super Bowl. In fact with his play on offense and special teams, very few players have touch the ball more leading up to this point, or will get their hands on the ball more than him in this game. This is a lot of pressure for a rookie in the most important game of everyone’s career. LaMichael is not your typical rookie though, as his college days in Oregon got him accustomed to playing on a big stage, in front of thousands, with so much on the line. LaMichael James will make a difference because he will be involved so much, but look for him to make a statement, and solidify yet another potent weapon on the 49er offense.
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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.