This season, San Francisco 49ers fans have grown accustomed to Jim Harbaugh’s wait and see attitude towards offensive free agents and draft picks getting action on the playing field. For rookie running back LaMichael James, that wait might finally be over.
At the beginning of the season we wanted for weeks until free agent receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham became an integral part of the offense. It wasn’t until week 12 that free agent running back Brandon Jacobs was finally activated for the first time. Over the last two games he has been activated, he has 5 carries for 7 yards.
The 49ers 2012 draft class has been no different than the free agents. Only one player has been activated this season, first round draft pick A.J. Jenkins, but he didn’t play one snap last week. With Manningham missing practice for the second straight day on Thursday, Jenkins will likely see action on the field this Sunday because of an already depleted receiving corps. The same can be said of running back LaMichael James with Kendall Hunter out for the season. The second round draft pick has been inactive all season, but that could change against the Dolphins. On KNBR yesterday, Harbaugh said it is a “real possibility” the former standout at Oregon will likely play Sunday.
Yes, I think that’s a real possibility. He’s (James) worked hard for an opportunity, and that’s something that’s definitely a possibility that’s coming. Jim Harbaugh
I am sensing a pattern here. Does Harbaugh have a show me you belong here and you can play attitude with free agents and draft picks? Likely not because if he didn’t think they could be effective right away, the Niners wouldn’t have ended up signing/drafting them. But he has been very stingy with getting Niners free agents and draft picks playing time on the field. Say what you will of this tactic, but it is one I have disagreed with because of the scenario San Francisco is in now with injuries to receivers and running backs. Had Jacobs, James and Jenkins seen at least some action throughout the season, Niner fans would be more comfortable with them being on the field. All three could potentially add an explosive element to the offense, but they have not had any live football contact all season with the exception of Jacobs. There is a big difference between taking hits in practice and taking hits during a game.
Of the 13 running backs selected in the first six rounds of the draft, James is the only one who has yet to play this season. Earlier this season, Harbaugh did say he was keeping James and Jacobs off the field because Frank Gore and Hunter were a powerful duo and he didn’t want to disrupt what they were doing. In addition, James came from a spread offense at Oregon where he used his speed to break away from defenders. In the NFL he is learning patience and that you need to what for the play to develop first, find the open hole and then use your speed. Another reason for him being inactive is he was rarely called on to pass protect at Oregon, which is a skill you need in the NFL. It also doesn’t help that he stands in at 5-9, 195 pounds, so blocking linebackers and defensive linemen is a tougher task for him. Whether or not James is still a work progress the wait for Niners fans to see him on the field is likely over come Sunday.