49ers to watch: No. 1 -- LaMichael James

August 31, 2012, 12:04 am
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Editor's note: This is the fourth part in a series that spotlights five 49ers players to watch in the team's final exhibition game Thursday, 7 p.m. (KCBW-TV), vs. the San Diego Chargers at Candlestick Park.

No. 5 -- WR Nathan PalmerNo. 4 -- CB Tramaine Brock

No. 3 -- WR Chris Owusu

No. 2 -- QB Scott TolzienNo. 1 -- RB LaMichael James
Perhaps the 49ers are just waiting for the regular season to unleash LaMichael James on the Green Bay Packers.James was a dynamic running back at Oregon, where he averaged 7.3 yards a carry during his final season. After declaring for the NFL draft, James was the 49ers' selection in the second round, No. 61 overall.In the first two exhibition games, James entered the game with backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Together, they ran a no-huddle, spread-option attack. James had eight carries for 36 yards (4.5 average) but sustained an ankle sprain while in pass protection in the closing minutes against the Houston Texans on Aug. 18. James did not make the trip to Denver for the game Sunday.James muffed a punt against the Texans and does not appear to be a reliable option, yet, in the return game. He is behind Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter on the depth chart at running back, with Brandon Jacobs and Anthony Dixon also in the picture.
It's unclear how -- or if -- the 49ers plan to incorporate James into the game plan during the regular season. After all, teams are allowed to suit up only 46 players for games. And James has yet to clearly establish himself as one of those players.James, listed at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, is having difficulty transitioning to the NFL style. His quickness, elusiveness, speed and playmaking ability were constantly on display in Oregon's spread offense.James has not stood out at the next level, as he adapts to running in tighter quarters against quicker, stronger defenders. His learning experience should continue Thursday night against the Chargers in the final exhibition game.There is no question that James will be on the 49ers' regular-season roster. That part is never in question. But there is a question if the 49ers can devise a role for him.

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