In Sunday’s win over the Miami Dolphins, fans got a first look at an added wrinkle in this San Francisco 49ers offense. While it may have gone overlooked with exceptional performances from Frank Gore and Aldon Smith, there is another storyline beneath the surface.
There has been a lot of youth and speed integrated into this starting offense in the past few weeks. In Week 14, the Niners added another piece to the puzzle by finally activating rookie second-rounder LaMichael James.
Against Miami’s top-10 run defense, James had an exciting debut, rushing eight times for 30 yards. He also tacked on 15 receiving yards on his only catch of the day. All in all, James averaged 5.0 yards per touch as a backup for Gore.
Another young up-and-comer in this 49ers offense, Colin Kaepernick, also made some plays on the ground. In the first half of Sunday’s game, Kaepernick did not have a single run. Following some halftime adjustments, Kaep finished the day with six rushes for 53 yards and a TD.
Together, Kaepernick and James accounted for 83 rushing yards. The most intriguing aspect of this on-the-field tandem is when they run the read-option.
Both of these players have blazing speed and quickness, capable of ripping off game-changing plays with their legs. At the past two annual NFL Combine events, both players showed off their straight-line speed. In the forty yard dash, James finished tied for 2nd amongst running backs with a 4.45 time. A year before, Kaepernick made the top-10 amongst QBs and RBs, registering a 4.53 forty.
These are two high-ceiling players, having come into the league as second round picks. They were stars on the West Coast, tearing it up as the centerpieces to their respective college offenses. At Oregon, everything ran through LaMichael James, and at Nevada, everything ran through Colin Kaepernick.
They established high profiles as record-setting NCAA players -- two of the more explosive of their generation.
Now at the NFL level, it's clear they are going to present issues for defenses, especially together on San Francisco's No. 1 ranked rushing offense led by Frank Gore. The ingenuity Jim Harbaugh brings as a head coach is a perfect environment for these two players to learn and hone their craft.
This introduction of the read-option in the 49ers offense could be a game-changer down the road, as an added wrinkle in brand new explosive attack. They have shown the ability to create running lanes with misdirection. With the option being an improvisational play, it forces defenses to hesitate.
The nature of it makes it tough for defenses, and when you add in the speed factor, San Francisco may really be on to something. Reiterating the dynamic element James and Kaepernick bring as runners, the threat of first-class speed going in two opposite directions is simply dangerous.
The 49ers are going to be able to rip big plays, and we've seen it already. Over time, the players and scheme will grow and this wrinkle will develop and improve.
And while there are those that believe James’ presence in the offense will telegraph runs, I believe it's going to make San Francisco's shotgun play-action even more of a threat. The introduction of these two players in the Niners offense should make this team more dangerous down the road.
Together, Colin Kaepernick and LaMichael James could ring in a new era in 49ers football.