With Williams and Cox gone, punt return duties fall on James, Wright
Programming note: Watch Wednesday’s 49ers press conference with Jim Harbaugh, NaVorro Bowman and Jonathan Goodwin streaming live right here at 12 p.m.
LaMichael James had never returned a punt in an NFL regular-season game prior to Sunday.
Now, he’s the most-experienced return man on the 49ers’ roster after the team waived Kyle Williams and Perrish Cox on Tuesday.
James’ debut in that role came Sunday in the 49ers’ 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers. He returned three punts for 35 yards.
“It’s something I’m going to have to grow at,” James told CSN Bay Area on Tuesday. “Obviously, it’s my first time doing it in a real game. So I feel like it’s something I can be better at as the weeks go on.
“I felt like I was about a two out of 10. I felt like I can be a whole lot better. I can play faster, I can make better decisions getting up the field. . . I think a lot of those things come with experience.”
Cornerback Eric Wright, a six-year NFL veteran, has more career yards on punt returns than James without actually catching a punt. In 2010, he took an across-the-field lateral pass from Cleveland Browns teammate Josh Cribbs on a punt return and ran 62 yards before getting tripped up against the New Orleans Saints.
Wright reflected on his return skills and spoke about his “legacy of being a great return man.”
He added, “But that’s high school.”
As a running back at San Francisco's Riordan High School, Wright rushed for 1,166 yards and 17 touchdowns and caught 18 passes for 268 yards with four touchdowns on offense in 2002 before going to USC and later UNLV to finish his college career.
Wright has caught some punts in practices with the 49ers. And now that he figures to be active for games as the fourth cornerback, he could be the next option behind James.
“Yeah, it’s always fun to go back there and catch a few balls and just be prepared and ready,” Wright said. “My whole thing is always try to maximize my opportunities and go out there and contribute in any facet of the game -- anyway I can to help the team win.”