The San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1) are fresh off their third loss of the season in 2012. The team is preparing to host the Miami Dolphins (5-7) in Week 14, hoping to rebound from last week’s letdown in OT.
Already this week there has been talk about the potential debut of rookie running back LaMichael James. Even though James was a high profile second rounder, he has yet to be activated during the regular season.
The wait is over...— LaMichael James (@LaMichaelJames) December 5, 2012
In San Francisco’s lost to St. Louis, veteran back Brandon Jacobs filled in at the No. 2 spot for Kendall Hunter (Achilles) who is out for the season. And though Jacobs looked good in preseason, he did not look to sharp on the half-dozen carries he received in Week 13.
Not only did Jacobs appear rusty, but he also has a completely different running style from Hunter. James is more similar to Hunter, as a quick, change-of-pace back. Having Jacobs active against the Rams did not help the 49ers last Sunday.
San Francisco will have a greater challenge in Week 14 though, having to take on the Dolphins 7th-ranked rush defense. Meanwhile, the Niners’ formerly 1st-ranked rushing attack has since dropped to No. 2 without Hunter.
With their personnel, blocking schemes and creative play calling, the 49ers are one of the best run teams in the league. Hunter going down changes things, so someone will have to step up and soon – the 49ers are beginning to think about the postseason.
San Francisco’s next opportunity comes against Miami.
Frank Gore will carry the bulk of the load, but if and when James is active, he will play a crucial role on Sunday. The good news for 49ers fans is that the team has had recent success from their young players. Anthony Davis (23), Aldon Smith (23), NaVorro Bowman (24), Chris Culliver (24), Kendall Hunter (24), Bruce Miller (25), Mike Iupati (25) and Colin Kaepernick (25) have all shown great ability early in their careers.
James, 23, could very well have an impact as soon as this week. To put in perspective, Hunter stepped in as a rookie and was asked to contribute immediately, primarily because the 49ers needed the help.
Hunter was a fourth rounder from Oklahoma State, while James was a second rounder from Oregon. The other difference is LaMichael James was one of the most prolific runners in NCAA history and he has the numbers to back it up. If we’re discussing a ceiling and who might be more game ready, a rookie James might’ve gotten the nod over a rookie Hunter.
The 49ers need James and he could be ready to burst onto the scene against the Dolphins. Miami plays well up front, so San Francisco's runners will be challenged. It will be nice to try and gauge where he is at, going against a tough run defense in the Dolphins.
Also, if James is active, he may get to see action as a receiving option out of the backfield and as a returner. He brings great explosiveness, so look for him to be active this Sunday.