One topic that will not go away is the 49ers use of running back LaMichael James. After missing the first three weeks recovering from a knee sprain, James was active Weeks 4 and 5 against the Rams and Texans. He accumulated three carries for zero yards against the Rams, and four carries for 31 yards against the Texans. He was then inactive this past Sunday against the Cardinals.
On Monday, Jim Harbaugh was asked about LaMichael James' development, and about his playing time:
"His development's been fine. He'll be back playing. I know the talk about ‘insurance', etc., and it's no slight to LaMichael. LaMichael's a very good player and he is a very valuable member of our team. We've had a situation where we've dressed three running backs on certain games and in certain games we've dressed four. But, you know, I definitely, we definitely all value and look at LaMichael as a backup running back, like a two. And, there's going to come time where he is a, like last year, where he's fully in the mix and depended on and that time will come again. But, he's doing a good job. I know he wants to play, he wants to be contributing, and when he is dressed he is contributing and doing that."
We all know we can only take Jim Harbaugh's comments with a grain of salt. He is not going to give away strategy, and he is generally not going to have anything negative to say about his players. We don't know with any certainty what goes on behind closed doors, so we are left to speculate to some extent.
The question with LaMichael James is when the time will come for him to get a significant opportunity. Last year, it did not happen until Kendall Hunter tore his Achilles and Brandon Jacobs had tweeted his way out of town. Once that happened, James got playing time, and did end up fully in the mix the final seven games of the regular season and postseason. He had his ups and downs, but he flashed the talent that excited many of us.
What do we make of LaMichael James' situation this season? How would you use James in the 49ers offense? The most frequent mention has been using him in a Darren Sproles-type role. The 49ers don't run the Saints style of offense, but there is something to mixing James into the passing game and other outside running work. James has the athleticism to take advantage of getting the ball in space. The 49ers do not run a lot of screen passes, but this kind of thing, or even just some basic swing passes seems suited for James game.
Or are we looking at another instance where the 49ers are potentially rope-a-doping opponents about their plans later in the season? Last year, the 49ers did not use the read option over the final few weeks of the regular season, and then they proceeded to unleash it on an unsuspecting Packers defense. Are we seeing something similar with LaMichael James? Are the 49ers hiding him for now as they get through the somewhat easier version of their schedule, only to unleash him later in the season?
I honestly have no idea what is going on, or what the 49ers are thinking. I really just wanted to see what people think about how the team might utilize James moving forward. I suppose they could decide to trade him, but I would be pretty surprised by that. And yet I still can't figure out what is going on with this. Any thoughts?