James gives 49ers big-play threat on returns

Harbaugh talks defense, LaMichael, Crabtree's return

James gives 49ers big-play threat on returns
November 27, 2013, 9:45 am
Share This Post

LaMichael James had more return yards (72) on five returns Monday than Kyle Williams had in eight games (61). (USATSI)

LaMichael James had a 40-yard punt return in the third quarter that helped set up a third-quarter touchdown that gave the 49ers more than enough cushion Monday night against Washington.

But, afterward, James still had an inconsequential fourth-quarter play on his mind.

“I’m thinking about muffing the punt,” James said after the 49ers’ 27-6 victory. “That’s the only thing that stays in my mind. It was a little windy and I put myself in a bad position to catch the ball. I should’ve been 10 yards up, and I was 10 yards back.”

[RECAP: 49ers 27, Washington 6]

In 35-degree weather with a 12 mph wind, James should’ve been lined up approximately 45 yards from the line of scrimmage to field Sav Rocca’s punt. Instead, he miscalculated and was 55 yards deep. That forced him to come running up further to catch the ball.

“It was short, and it was windy, and it was going to the right,” James said. “The way it was coming in, it was one of those ugly punts. That’s on me. I take full responsibility.

“It was a great learning experience for me.”

James recovered the loose ball, so no harm was done. And the 49ers scored their final points shortly thereafter on Phil Dawson’s 49-yard field goal.

James might have been a little hard on himself after the game, considering he has brought an element of explosiveness to the return job that did not exist with Kyle Williams in that role over the first half of the season.

Williams led the league in fair catches (20) before the 49ers released him. Williams had just 61 return yards on 12 returns for a 5.1-yard average.

On Monday, James had more return yards (72) on five returns than Williams had in eight games. James is averaging 13.0 yards on 10 returns in three games since assuming the duties.

James, a second-round draft pick in 2012, showed his big-play ability Monday night with a nifty bit of footwork along the left sideline.

James avoided Washington’s Reed Doughty at the sideline, then he squeezed past blocker Tony Jerod-Eddie on the sideline as he shielded ex-49ers safety Trenton Robinson on the Washington coverage unit.

While James has yet to make an impact on offense, he believes he is not far from producing his first NFL touchdown on a punt return.

“I haven’t done it that much,” James said. “I feel every week I’m getting better and better. Eventually I’m going to pop one. And hopefully it’ll be soon.”