How do Baldwin, James fit into 49ers' offense?

Harbaugh: Blame for offense doesn't fall on one position

How do Baldwin, James fit into 49ers' offense?
September 23, 2013, 3:30 pm
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LaMichael James and Jon Baldwin have been inactive for the 49ers' first three games this season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

SANTA CLARA – Wide receiver Jon Baldwin was a first-round draft pick in 2011. Running back LaMichael James was chosen in the second round a year later.

With the 49ers’ offense struggling, Baldwin and James have not been able to provide any assistance. Baldwin, acquired in a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs on Aug. 19 for A.J. Jenkins, has been inactive for the first three games.

James sustained a left knee sprain in the final exhibition game. But he wrote on Twitter on Sunday night that his knee “feels fine” and “I’m ready to play.” James has also been among the 49ers’ seven inactive players for each the 49ers' first three games.

“He’s getting back,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He’s getting back.”

When asked if James will suit up when he’s 100-percent healthy, Harbaugh was non-committal.

“We will make that evaluation,” Harbaugh said.

James was not active for any games as a rookie when second-string running back Kendall Hunter was healthy. Only after Hunter sustained a season-ending Achilles injury – and Brandon Jacobs was suspended -- did the 49ers activate James.

James appeared in just four regular-season games as a rookie. He carried 27 times for 125 yards. James also returned 14 kickoffs for 417 yards (29.8 average).

James worked the past year to become more secure in handling punts, but the 49ers might be reluctant to entrust him with that responsibility. Through three games, Kyle Williams has returned four punts for 22 yards while also handling six fair catches.

Baldwin had 41 receptions for 579 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons with the Chiefs. At 6 foot 4, 230 pounds, Baldwin is a more physical presence at the line of scrimmage than the other wide receivers opposite of Anquan Boldin.

Boldin leads the 49ers with 19 receptions for 282 yards. Williams has contributed just nine catches for 87 yards, while Marlon Moore has one reception for 6 yards and rookie Quinton Patton has been held without a catch.

Harbaugh said it’s “possible” Baldwin will be in uniform when the 49ers return to action Thursday night against the St. Louis Rams.

“He’s doing a good job,” Harbaugh said. “Had a real good week of practice last week. We’re all coming back today, back to work, working on fixing.”

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