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KCBS Sports Fans: 49ers RB James A Sleeper Super Bowl Hero?

KCBS News Anchor Stan Bunger (who along with KCBS Sports Anchor Steve Bitker are the on-air duo known as KCBS Sports Fans) offers his unique sports analysis.

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) - Colin Kaepernick's story doesn't need any more hype. His ascension from backup curiosity to Super Bowl starting quarterback will surely generate untold amounts of media attention over the next fortnight. I hereby lay odds that somebody will ask Kaepernick at Super Bowl Media Day to pull off his shirt and provide a tattoo tour.

Then there's the other newbie in the 49ers backfield. He's mostly been flying under the radar, but if I had to pick one guy most likely to surprise at the Super Bowl, it would be LaMichael James.

They say patience is a virtue.  That must make James a pretty virtuous guy.

The 49ers running back had to learn how to wait, in more ways than one. James was a bona fide star coming out of the University of Oregon's high-powered offense. He ran for more than 5,000 yards in three seasons at Oregon and finished 3rd in the Heisman Trophy balloting as a sophomore.

The 49ers took him in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft--and that's when the fleet-footed James started to see things slow down.

Nobody expected him to supplant the durable and effective Frank Gore as the Niners' featured back. But James was so deep on the depth chart, he wasn't even on it.  For the first 13 weeks of the NFL season, James never touched the ball--because he wasn't even on the weekly roster.

By the time the 49ers activated James in Week 14, all of the backs drafted ahead of him had seen plenty of game action; one of them, Doug Martin, had already gained 1,000 yards rushing.

What happened? It turned out James had a few things to learn about the craft of carrying the football in the NFL.  For one thing, NFL backs need to do something James was never asked to do at Oregon: block. Watch Gore and you'll see a guy who commits himself fully to the least-glamorous aspect of his job.

So James had to add "blocking" to his skill set.  But to hear Gore tell it, the speedy kid also had to learn to slow down. We tend to focus on how fast a guy is, but for an NFL runner, the art is in knowing when to light the afterburners. A headlong dash into a hole that hasn't opened yet gets you nowhere.  Again, watch Gore to see how it's done.

So LaMichael James had to work on his patience. Now, he's ready. He scored his first NFL touchdown in the NFC Championship Game. He's averaging almost 7 yards a carry in the postseason games and he's become the team's kickoff return specialist (that 62-yard return against the Patriots in mid-December hinted at his explosiveness).

But for me, the proof that the waiting is over came on a three-play sequence in the playoff game against Green Bay. James caught a pass, picked up a nice gain on a read-option running play... and laid a block. He also displayed a clever capability to play-act when he doesn't get the ball on the read-option. Linemen and linebackers can be frozen by a good fake, and James does it well.

In short, the waiting is over. Patience is being rewarded. It seems as though every Super Bowl produces a surprise hero, but if it's LaMichael James, I won't be surprised.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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