It's finally time to get out all those #23 San Francisco 49ers jerseys that Oregon Duck fans bought this past summer.
It took a pair of unfortunate injuries and a social media outburst from a teammate, but former University of Oregon running back, LaMichael James, now finds himself in the number two running back slot for the San Francisco 49ers.
After being drafted in the second round of last April's NFL draft, James had yet to see any playing time thirteen weeks into the 2012-13 NFL season. He was able to record 13 carries for 63 yards and a pair of receptions during the preseason, but hadn't even dressed for a regular season game until this past weekend.
A spot on the game day roster opened up for James two weeks ago when running back Kendall Hunter and receiver/return specialist Kyle Williams were both hurt on the same play against the New Orleans Saints. Both players were then placed on injured reserve and ruled out for the season as Hunter tore his Achilles and Williams tore his ACL.
The unfortunate series of injuries meant that the 49ers would have to push-on without two key offensive role players, but it also left the door wide open for Oregon’s all-time leading rusher.
James was able to make the most of his first real opportunity in the NFL last Sunday, helping the 49ers defeat the Miami Dolphins 27-13. James had 8 carries for 30 yards (13 of which came on his very first NFL carry) in the Niners win, as well as a catch for 15 yards and three kick returns for a total of 79 yards. Not overwhelming numbers by any means, but an impressive start for a young back who was not expected to see the field this season.
Originally after the pair of injuries had occurred, it was thought that James would still have to compete for carries with seven-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion, Brandon Jacobs. However, after Jacobs vented his frustrations over a lack of playing time on Instagram Saturday, it appeared that wouldn't be the case.
On Saturday, Jacobs had posted pictures of his days with the New York Giants with the caption: "“I am on this team rotting away so why would I wanna put any pics up of anything that say niners." He then went on to further defend his Instagram post via his Twitter account. On Monday the 49ers suspended him for the rest of the season for insubordination, leaving the door wide open for James to shine.
The 49ers still have their star running back, Frank Gore, so James won't be asked to carry much of the load anytime soon. However, he is now getting a chance to contribute to a potential division champ and Super Bowl contender; which is all any young running back can ask for. Hunter did have 72 carries this season before getting injured, so the carries will be there for James; but a change of pace, a couple first downs and some much needed rest for Gore is all the 49ers will really ask of James this season. If James can successfully deliver these things for the 49ers, he may have a very good chance to join the likes of Dennis Dixon and Spencer Paysinger as recent Duck alums to win a Super Bowl in their first NFL season.
In just two quick weeks, James' first NFL season went from being a learning experience learned strictly from the sidelines, to an opportunity to actually contribute to a Super Bowl contending team on the field.
This is a statement that will make any Oregon fan very proud, especially those who shelled out the $90 to buy his jersey just months ago.