James level-headed as playoff debut approaches

James level-headed as playoff debut approaches
January 4, 2013, 4:45 pm
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James carried the ball 27 times for 125 yards, for an average of 4.6 yards-per-carry in four games this season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SANTA CLARA – Running back/kick returner LaMichael James might only be a rookie who’s played in four career games, but he’s bringing a veteran attitude into his first playoff action in the NFL.

“I’m pretty cool, even chill,” James said on Friday, as he and his teammates continued to prepare for an unknown opponent next weekend. “I just look at it like it’s just another game. I don’t get too high or too low, I just stay motivated and treat it like it’s my last. Just like any other game, I could get injured or something drastic. You just never know when your last snap is going to be, so I’m just going to keep treating it like that.”

James carried the ball 27 times for 125 yards, for an average of 4.6 yards-per-carry after taking over for the injured Kendall Hunter late in the season. He’s also returned 14 kickoffs, including a key 62-yarder to help preserve the 49ers’ win in New England on Dec. 16.

The 5’9’’, 195-pounder has had the benefit of running behind one of the most effective offense lines in football, which helped San Francisco to the fourth-best rushing attack in the NFL this season.

“A lot of gaps there, a lot of space to run through,” James said of his O-line. “You know, it’s fun playing with those guys. I really feed off of them. I think they believe in me. They keep me going when I’m in the game and they just keep me motivated.”

James is particularly impressed with six-year veteran Joe Staley, who is generally regarded as one of the better tackles in football.

“He’s super-fast. I don’t think people realize how fast he is. I see him every day in practice and he can run with the best of them. That’s one thing that stands out about him. He’s super-athletic to be that big.”

James provides a different look than the bruising Frank Gore, who finished the 2012 regular season with 1,214 yards, the most he’s had since 2006. Gore will obviously continue to get the majority of the carries headed into the postseason, but James’ style gives opposing defenses a different look.

That’s important, according to Staley.

“I think the thing that’s great about our running game now, is that it’s so diverse,” Staley said. “We can do so many different things – inside, outside, traps, pulls, powers, quarterback runs. We’re very diverse as far as what we can do with the run game, and it plays to our advantage.”

The 49ers could find out as soon as Saturday who they will host on Jan. 12 at Candlestick Park. If the favored Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay will be the team heading west.

James took the diplomatic approach when asked if he’d like to see the Packers win, so he didn’t have to wait until Sunday to find out which defense he’ll be lining up against.

“Not really. I think we’re going to be motivated enough. It’s a playoff game. We’re going to be ready, they’re going to be ready,” James said. “Whoever we’re going to play, it’s put up or shut up time.”

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James spent three seasons with the Oregon Ducks before he was chosen in the second round of the NFL draft in April, and isn’t surprised one bit that his former head coach, Chip Kelly, is one of the most sought-after coaches for several NFL vacancies.

Kelly is reportedly close to becoming the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns, although Buffalo and Philadelphia have also expressed interest.

Could Oregon’s high-powered Pac-12 offense translate into the NFL?

“One hundred percent, yes,” James said. “I don’t think anything can stop that offense – NFL, college or high school, no matter what it is. I think Washington runs a similar offense, and I like the way they do their things, too. I think it would be kind of similar to that, a little faster though.”

James was nothing but complimentary in regards to Kelly.

“I think he can be one of the best coaches in the NFL. I respect him, he’s a super-great coach, and that’s the only thing I can say about him. He’s just great.”