LaMichael James has brought some new life to the once nearly nonexistent punt return game of the San Francisco 49ers since taking over for Kyle Williams a few weeks ago.
James had a 40-yard return that set up a touchdown Monday night in Washington, but according to CSNBayArea.com, the play he’s remembering most from the win over the Redskins is a fourth-quarter mistake.
“I’m thinking about muffing the punt,” James said. “That’s the only thing that stays in my mind. It was a little windy and I put myself in a bad position to catch the ball. I should’ve been 10 yards up and I was 10 yards back.”
James says he should have been lined up about 45 yards off the line of scrimmage for Sav Rocca’s punt into a 12-mph wind, but instead he lined up 55 yards back. The punt was short and James had to run to try and field the kick.
“It was short and it was windy and it was going to the right,” James said. “The way it was coming in, it was one of those ugly punts. That’s on me. I take full responsibility. It was a great learning experience for me.”
James recovered the ball—turning the play into a no-harm, no-foul sort of deal—and San Francisco got points on the ensuing possession when Phil Dawson booted a 49-yard field goal.
It was the 49ers longest punt return since Ted Ginn Jr. ran one back 55 yards for a touchdown in a 33-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park on Sept. 11, 2011. (h/t pro-football-reference.com)
James’ predecessor, Williams, did not bring an element of explosiveness to the punt return game. But he did lead the league in fair catches at the time he was released—20 in all—compared to just 12 returns for a 5.1 yard average.
James is averaging 13 yards a return in three games since taking over the job and has more return yards—72—on five returns than Williams had in eight games (61).
James hasn’t done a lot of punt returning, but the second-round pick out of Oregon from 2012 says he’s close to breaking a big one—a touchdown return.
“I haven’t done it that much,” James said. “I feel every week I’m getting better and better. Eventually I’m going to pop one. And hopefully it’ll be soon.”