LaMichael James 49ers punt return

LaMichael James has gotten a bit of a reputation lately, thanks to some tweets and the fact that the 49ers haven’t been utilizing him even when healthy. But he sure seemed like he was in a good mood today when he spoke with reporters today in the locker room.

Does that mean he’ll be the No. 1 punt and kickoff returner on Sunday?

“I do. I feel like that every week. I feel like it’s my job to be had,” James said.

James also talked about his up and down history catching punts, and made it sound like he wasn’t prepared when the 49ers first tried him in that role.

“At first it was a little shaky. I think just never really doing it that much in college. I did it one year. And never really catching an NFL ball or studying an NFL punter. Never really just thinking about the wind,” he said.

“(I was) just kind of free-styling it when I was in college. A lot of things come in the NFL. You’ve got to study the ball, you’ve got to play the wind. A lot of things that come with it that I had to grow and learn.”

One of the things James learned was that Candlestick Park is a ridiculously windy place at times, particularly early in the year.

“I noticed (the wind) last year,” said James. “Nobody really told me it was like that. I had a rude awakening.”

James’ trouble handling punts during the 2012 preseason led to a season (and offseason) full of work with special teams coach Brad Seely. But for a player who made things look so easy during his time at Oregon, the inactives and simply the act of trying to locate and secure a wobbly punt in the swirling winds of Candlestick Park got to him mentally. Today James said those problems helped him mature.

“I think it was good for a lot of reasons, especially adversity. I could’ve just laid down and quit. But I didn’t. I kept fighting. It made me a better person on and off the field. It was a challenge for me, I’m not going to sit here and lie about it,” he said.

With the struggles of Kyle Williams and Jim Harbaugh’s recent comments about James being “too good of a football player not to be playing,” James has reason to believe to he’ll get a chance very soon to prove that all that work with Seely has paid off. But he’s aware that there are no guarantees. Not in the NFL. Not on this team.

“You just never know,” said James when asked if the coaches told him he’d be the top 49ers returner against the Panthers. “I’ll probably find out Sunday, to be honest.”