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49ers coaches figuring out how to mix in some LaMichael James

Following the 49ers bye week, the coaching staff mixed up the special teams recipe and inserted LaMichael James as the punt returner. Will Chef Harbaugh and company find ways to get LMJ into the lineup in other ways?

Ezra Shaw

The San Francisco 49ers went into their bye week with a very questionable return game. Prior to the Jaguars game, Kyle Williams had been reliable in catching punts, but he was not providing any spark in returns. He led the NFL in fair catches, and simply was not making things happen all that frequently.

During the Jaguars game, Williams struggled even hanging on to punts, and at that point, the coaching staff decided a change was in order. The team moved LaMichael James into the lineup as the primary punt returner. In short order, we've seen him bring serious energy to the unit. In three games as the punt returner, LMJ has ten returns for 130 yards. He does not yet have enough returns to qualify for the yards per return ranking, but if he did, he would be fourth in the NFL. Against Washington, LMJ had five returns for 72 yards, averaging 14.4 yards per return. Kyle Williams had 61 total return yards in eight games as the punt returner.

The 49ers seem to be looking for more ways to work James into games. Against Washington, he had his first two kick returns of the season, averaging 26.5 yards per return. It is a small sample size, but an impressive first performance. I suspect we'll see him as the primary kick returner as the season moves forward given what he's shown thus far.

The question then becomes if we'll see more of him mixed in with the offense. The 49ers don't need to force things, but there still seems to be a potential role for him. Against Washington, he had three offensive snaps. Given his ability to make plays in space, I would think swing passes, screen passes and of course some work in the read option could provide more opportunities.

Is the team playing possum in some way? Or is it just a matter of thinking he's a square peg to fit in a round hole?