SANTA CLARA – Running back LaMichael James, the 49ers’ second-round pick in the 2012 draft, was among the team’s seven inactive players for Sunday’s game.
Just like his rookie season when James was inactive for most of the season, coach Jim Harbaugh said he believes James will be needed at some point.
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“His development has been fine,” Harbaugh said on Monday, one day after the 49ers’ 32-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. “He’ll be back playing. I know the talk about insurance and etc. It’s no slight to LaMichael. LaMichael is very good player. And he’s a very valued member of our team.”
Two weeks ago, James wrote on Twitter: “Some things I just don’t understand at all. I don’t work at State Farm. I’m not trying to be insurance.” James quickly deleted his remark, and later explained the comment had nothing to do with football.
Harbaugh said he was aware of the mini-controversy and spoke with James about it.
“You’re always communicating and having conversations every day with guys,” Harbaugh said. “But, yeah, (I) let LaMichael know he’s a valued guy around here and has a big role for our football team.”
James did not suit up for the first 12 games of his rookie season until Kendall Hunter sustained a season-ending Achilles injury. James played the final four games of the regular season and all three playoff games.
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He finished the regular season with 125 yards rushing on 27 attempts. In the playoffs, he had 65 yards rushing on 11 carries. He also handled the kickoff-return duties.
Harbaugh said it will be a weekly decision whether the 49ers suit up three or four running backs. James is the fourth running back behind Frank Gore, Hunter and Anthony Dixon, who also is a core special-teams contributor.
“We definitely all value LaMichael as a backup running back -- like a two,” Harbaugh said. “And there’s going to come a time like last year when he’s fully in the mix and depended on. And that time will come again.”
James was unavailable early in the season due to a knee sprain he sustained in the final exhibition game. He saw limited action against the St. Louis Rams and Houston Texans, rushing for 31 yards on seven carries. With linebacker Patrick Willis returning to the starting lineup after missing two games, the 49ers decided to de-activate James against the Cardinals.