Play-time issues for Moss, Jacobs and top draft picks

October 4, 2012, 2:05 pm
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SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers have enough talent and depth at running back and wide receiver that rookies they selected in the first two rounds at those positions haven't been able to get on the field.Play time has been at a premium for veteran wide receiver Randy Moss through the first four games, too. And, now that running back Brandon Jacobs is healthy, there's no guarantee how much action he will see.If you're 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, all of this is not a nice problem to have. Why? Because he does not consider it a problem at all.RB Brandon Jacobs: He made it through his first full practice Wednesday since sustaining a left knee sprain on Aug. 18. He should be in uniform for the first time Sunday when the 49ers play host to the Buffalo Bills.To make room on the 46-man roster, the 49ers' most logical option is to de-activate undrafted rookie tight end Garrett Celek, who did not play any special teams on Sunday against the New York Jets. Jacobs does not have a role on special teams, either.Frank Gore is clearly the 49ers' No. 1 running back. He is averaging 4.9 yards a carry. Kendall Hunter has a 4.6 average, and don't mistake him for just a change-of-pace back. He can hit it inside the tackles, as he showed on a 1-yard touchdown plunge against the Jets.Jacobs made his biggest mark in his seven seasons with the New York Giants as a reliable short-yardage back. He scored 56 touchdowns in 100 regular-season games. He'll probably get a carry here and there in the middle of the field, but when it's third-and-short or the 49ers are on the goal line, that's when Jacobs will be summoned."We're a pretty fully healthy team right now, and Brandon is saying that he's healthy and ready to go," Harbaugh said. "And we'll make a decision as we go through the week and really see what our best options are. But they're good options and we'll see what fits best for us this week."WR Randy Moss: In four games, Moss has averaged 20 snaps a game. When the 49ers go with three wide receivers, it's Kyle Williams who gets the call because of his short-area quickness from the slot.Williams has played four more snaps than Moss this season. But Moss has eight catches for 88 yards and a touchdown, while Williams has just two receptions for 16 yards.If a replacement is needed for starters Michael Crabtree or Mario Manningham, Moss would likely get the call. Harbaugh says Moss' relative lack of playing time is not a matter of the 49ers attempting to keep his legs fresh for later in the season.After all, Moss, 35, is in tremendous physical condition. He did not miss any practices in the offseason program, training camp or first four weeks of the season.
"We have a lot of combinations," Harbaugh said when asked about Moss' playing time. "We have a lot of things we can use right now. It's more that than anything else."WR A.J. Jenkins: When the 49ers selected Jenkins with the No. 30 overall selection, it was apparent he was joining a position group that was not a short-term need for the 49ers. So consider this a redshirt season for Jenkins.The 49ers selected the player they had rated as the best-available at that spot in the draft. If the 49ers remain healthy at wide receiver, he probably will not step on the field at all as a rookie.Does that make this a bad draft pick? No. There's not a player the 49ers could've chosen late in the first round that would be a significant contributor as a rookie. Sure, another player chosen at another position could've gotten on the field from time to time. But the 49ers believed Jenkins was the best long-term player available.
We shall see But we're probably not going to see anything from Jenkins for at least another year.RB LaMichael James: Joining a position group that already included Gore, Hunter and Jacobs, it is difficult to figure out a way for LaMichael James to make an immediate impact, too.Hunter is built more like an every-down back. James has "change of pace" written all over him. Ultimately, he might be able to make an impact in the return game. But he's not there, yet.Neither James nor Jenkins contributes on the coverage units on special teams, so there's no way the 49ers can fit them onto the 46-man game day roster.In the meantime, James and Jenkins have a role at practices during the week. They help prepare the 49ers' defense for what they're going to face against the upcoming opponent. Jenkins mimics the opposition's top receiver, while James this week will line up as Bills running back C.J. Spillman Spiller.This is what Harbaugh said Wednesday in reference to James and Jenkins:"Getting ready, learning, being there when they're called upon. I felt that it's been good. All those young guys, again, I know they want to play, and I think they're demonstrating that on the field that they want that. Nobody's hiding. Nobody's trying not to be seen out there on the practice field. They're jumping in there and they're working extremely hard. And that's good. That's what you want. Just try to emphasize it, you'd rather be prepared and not be called upon than be called upon and not be prepared."