Call it “Kaepersmith Lite.”
While it can’t compare with the 49ers’ compelling QB controversy involving Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith, it appears the team could have a pretty juicy battle materializing in its own right between veteran Brandon Jacobs and rookie LaMichael James for the No. 2 RB job behind Frank Gore previously filled by Kendall Hunter, who tore his Achilles tendon in Week 12.
Team insiders agree that whoever replaces Hunter will have huge shoes to fill.
“It was a big loss,” one insider said of Hunter, the team’s second-leading rusher who was gaining a sterling 5.2 yards per carry. “The coaches had real confidence in him, and, more importantly, so did Gore. Before, Gore never wanted to leave the field because he didn’t have any faith in his backups. Hunter provided a different element, but he could also do everything Frank does, both running and catching the ball.”
Jacobs, who finally had begun seeing some limited action, is considered by most observers to be the front-runner to spell Gore.
“The real reason they got him was in case there was an injury,” the insider said of Jacobs. “He’s been a longtime starter before in a pro-style offense and can handle any situation with better size and blocking ability than James.”
On the other hand, as has been the case with Kaepernick, James regularly does things in practice that makes his teammates stand up and take notice. Fellow RB Anthony Dixon, who also could figure in the backup mix, recently compared James to the Vikings' Percy Harvin.
“With his big-play talent and (offensive coordinator) Greg Roman’s innovative play-calling ability, James and Kaepernick together could combine to do a lot of the same kind of stuff James did so well at Oregon,” the insider said.
In any event, it’s unlikely head coach Jim Harbaugh will tip his hand regarding a preference. “There’s no way we’re gonna’ know,” the insider chuckled. “Harbaugh will never say what he’s really thinking.”