In the preseason and during training camp as Kyle Williams was recovering from his injury, San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James served as the team’s main punt returner, while also serving as one of the kickoff returners. Once Williams was fully fit and back practicing with the team, James was relieved of his duties as the main returner for the 49ers. Yet, for Sunday’s Week 10 game against the Carolina Panthers, James looks set to be installed as the 49ers’ main punt and kickoff returner.
In the latest depth chart released by the 49ers, James has been listed as the starting punt and kickoff returner. While this in no way is an official announcement on the part of head coach Jim Harbaugh, it is the latest signal that James will take over the return duties from Williams. This is a move that makes alot of sense on several fronts for the 49ers.
First and foremost, any chance to get James on the field to be able to contribute is something positive. After having missed some time early in the season because of a ligament sprain in his knee, James has been active for two games so far in the 2013 season. Just like he proved last season, James can once again give the 49ers an additional playmaking threat when he touches the ball here in the second half of the season.
Aside from doing anything that will give James a chance to play and be a playmaker, he will give the 49ers and their fans a sense of security when they are fielding and returning punts and kickoffs. It is clear that since the NFC Championship game two seasons ago when Williams fumbled twice on punt returns, he has not inspired confidence in 49ers fans each time he fields a punt. Clearly the fact that Williams fumbled the opening kickoff while muffing a punt in the 49ers Week 8 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars meant that the coaching staff lost faith in Williams’ ability to be the primary returner.
James has shown great patience in waiting for his opportunity to be a contributor here in the 2013 season, while at the same time going the extra mile by fielding punt and kicks after the end of practice to stay mentally sharp in case he was asked to play that role at some point this season. On Sunday, James will get his chance to be the main returner for the 49ers, and if he is able to seize and take advantage of the opportunity, the job will become his for the rest of the season.