49ers Mailbag: When will James contribute?

September 14, 2012, 4:40 pm
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We opened the floor for questions Friday morning on our Facebook page, and here's what was delivered to the 49ers Mailbag . . . Will we see a LaMichael James or Brandon Jacobs sighting this week? (John J Francis)
Don't expect running back Brandon Jacobs to play Sunday night against the Detroit Lions. He has been out with a left knee sprain since Aug 18. And he did not take part in practices Wednesday and Thursday, and those are the days when the bulk of the game plan is implemented.So I can't imagine the 49ers would send Jacobs -- or Ted Ginn -- into action without a full week of practice.
Meanwhile, James, the second-round draft pick, is healthy. But he has not earned the right to suit up for games.
James does not have a defined role on the team, yet. The coaches made him one of the seven inactive players Week 1 against Green Bay. Even with Jacobs injured, James is the No. 4 running back behind Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon.Dixon brings special-teams play to the table. James does not have value covering punts or kickoffs, so the 49ers could not find a way to make him one of the team's 46 active players.Originally, I thought James might be in uniform and a backup safety, such as Darcel McBath or Trenton Robinson, would be inactive. But McBath played 24 snaps on special teams, and Robinson played 15.The only way James gets on the field is if he practices well and offensive coordinator Greg Roman comes up with a plan to use James' talents against a specific opponent.Your thoughts on the Niners opening the playbook more? (Kyle Fletcher)
I thought the 49ers opened up the playbook Week 1 against the Packers with their wide variety of personnel packages and formations. They showed the Green Bay defense a lot of different looks.But if you're talking about the passing game, I don't think anything is going to change.Why would the 49ers change what's been working? Alex Smith has not thrown an interception in a team-record 185 attempts (not including 68 passes in the two playoff games). And the 49ers have gone 26 regular-season quarters without a giveaway. That's a team record, too.
So, no, I don't expect Roman to begin dialing up a bunch of low-percentage passes down the field. Smith will take calculated shots, but the 49ers are not going to become vertical all of a sudden. Smith will pick his spots, but you should never expect to see a steady diet of deep passes.
How valuable is Justin Smith to the interior of the 49ers defensive line and to the defense as a whole? (Jim Scales)
Justin Smith was credited with just one tackle in the 49ers' 30-22 victory over the Packers. The 49ers coaches, after a review of the game film, came up with three tackles, three quarterback hits and four pressures.Smith's contribution to the 49ers cannot be measured in statistics. He probably should've been in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year last season. But might not ever put up the gaudy statistics needed for such an award.Don't let the statistics fool you. Smith was his usual dominant self against the Packers. In large part because of Smith and the constant double-teams he faced, NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis combined for 20 tackles. Smith also deserves a lot of credit for Aldon Smith's success.Justin Smith, without question, is the guy who makes that 49ers defense tick. Unfortunately, there's no statistic available that proves that point.

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