Running back LaMichael James gives the 49ers some "fresh legs." (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
San Francisco running back Frank Gore passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in Sunday’s victory over the Dolphins, but it was the 30 yards rushing by his rookie teammate, LaMichael James, that might be the most significant stat from the game.
Though the 49ers rank as the No. 2 rushing team in the NFL, the insertion of James for the first time into the Niners’ running back rotation gives the team a boost heading into the final three games of the season.
Gore remains the mainstay of team’s running attack, with 1,035 yards this season on 211 carries (a 4.9 yard average). But the loss of second-year back Kendall Hunter to a season-ending injury against the Saints on Nov. 25 was a blow.
James, the team’s second-round pick out of Oregon in April, hadn’t had a chance to show what he can do until Sunday, but he didn’t disappoint.
He carried eight times for 30 yards, caught a pass for 15 yards and averaged 26 yards on three kickoff returns.
Gore and James now give the 49ers a good, 1-2 combination as they head into the stretch of the season, hoping to lock up the NFC West title and a first-round playoff bye. Though free-agent signee Brandon Jacobs has largely been a non-contributor – and this past week voiced his displeasure on Twitter at his lack of playing time – the 49ers with Gore, James and Anthony Dixon should allow the 49ers the ability to run the ball as effectively as they have all season.
As a team, the Niners have 2,100 yards rushing in 2012, second only to the Washington Redskins (2,178). San Francisco averages 5.3 yards per carry and 161.5 yards per game.
To James, who hadn’t been on the field since the exhibition season, it was a joy to finally be able to contribute. In fact, he told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle that he might be able to give a boost to the 9-3-1 49ers as they go into next Sunday’s game against the 9-3 Patriots (who play the Texans on Monday night).
“I’ve got those fresh legs,” James said. “That’s 100 percent true. That’s definitely a big deal. At this level, those guys have been pounding for two or three months now. Today was my first day ever getting tackled. So I’ve got a little advantage and we’ll take it.”
James, in fact, said he isn’t bothered by the fact he didn’t get a chance to play until the 13th game of the season.
“Not at all,” he told the Chronicle. “The coaches know what they’re doing. I’m just here to help the team win. I’m not sure if I was ready a few weeks ago.”
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, for one, believes James might be a great weapon for the team over the last few weeks of the season and into the playoffs.
“He’s a great player, very shifty, very fast, so he opened up a lot of things for us,” Kaepernick told the Chronicle.
Said head coach Jim Harbaugh after the game: “I thought he was fantastic. Did a great job running the football. Thought he made positive yards that were there plus had a little extra burst through the hole. I thought it was a really good, a great debut by LaMichael. Thought he acquitted himself really well.”