Harbaugh Says It's Time to Get James ‘In The Mix'

Niners head coach says second-year running back and kick returner is too talented not to be utilized

The 49ers don’t have a game this Sunday, because it’s their bye week.

But it would be wrong to think there’s not a lot of activity going on with this team, even though it doesn’t play again until Nov. 10 against the Carolina Panthers.

For one thing, the return of injured players is creating multiple roster moves. Rookie defensive tackle Tank Carradine has been activated, and wide receiver Marlon Moore has been released, and cornerback Eric Wright and wide receiver Mario Manningham are practicing again, meaning more releases are pending when they are activated this week or next, in time to play vs. Carolina.

Also, it’s a time for the 49ers coaching staff to do some self-scouting and assessment of a team that is now 6-2 after a five-game winning streak.

One thing that head coach Jim Harbaugh has admitted this week is that second-year running back LaMichael James’ talents have been wasted through the first half of this season. James has been active for just two games this year, and Harbaugh told reporters that’s not right.

“Get LaMichael in the mix,” Harbaugh said. “I want to get that going. He’s just too good of a football player to not be playing.” Harbaugh told the media that the 49ers will try to work James into both the offense and special teams. So far, James has seven carries for 31 yards and one kick return for 29.

James’ lack of activity this year prompted some to wonder if the 49ers might trade the former Oregon standout this week before the trading deadline. But GM Trent Baalke said last week in London, where the 49ers were playing the Jaguars, that the team had not intention of letting him go.

“We’re not interested in trading LaMichaal,” Baalke said. “LaMichael’s a key player.” And, the trading deadline passed without the 49ers making a move.

Last season, it took an injury to backup running back Kendall Hunter to finally get James into the lineup. Once activated, he produced some big plays through the tail end of the regular season and through the Super Bowl.

It’s possible that James could make the biggest contributions as a kick or punt returner. The 49ers’ return game has been weak this season. He returned 14 kickoffs during the 2012 regular season for an average of 29.8 yards. This season, the Niners rank near the bottom of the NFL in kickoff returns, averaging just 21.1 yards.

Said Harbaugh recently, of getting James into the mix: “There’s going to come a time, like last year, where he’s fully in the mix, and that time will come. He wants to dress and contribute.”

It appears that time will come against the Panthers after the bye.

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