SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers once-crowded backfield is beginning to wear thin after running back LaMichael James was taken off the field Sunday with a dislocated left elbow.
James’ injury is expected to sideline him for around a month, though it appears far less serious than one suffered by running back Kendall Hunter this week. It is the second consecutive year James has suffered a significant injury during training camp.
Just hours before James was hurt, head coach Jim Harbaugh — who told media he was “physically sick” over Hunter’s injury — not only praised James’ potential to take over Hunter’s role, but spoke of the effects that his prior MCL sprain had on his season:
“We have complete and total confidence in LaMichael James. … We know that he can be a very fine football player. If you look at where he was last year at this time in training camp, he got an MCL injury and that denied action for quite a while, and affected where he was on the depth chart.”
Harbaugh’s words may have proven ominous. James had to be in competition with the likes of Carlos Hyde, Marcus Lattimore and Jewel Hampton in the remaining practices.
Just one year removed from a season where James publicly voiced his disapproval at his lack of playing time, the running back may again be forced down the depth chart by an unfortunate injury.
While James’ injury is a blow to the 49ers rushing attack, the largest affect will be felt in the return game, where James has looked like the only solid option during training camp.
Others, such as cornerback Perrish Cox, wide receiver Devon Wylie and Quinton Patton-who had a particularly rough time yesterday-have gotten looks returning the ball during camp, but none have been as solid as James.
Wide receiver Bruce Ellington, who was elevated off the NFI list on Friday, is also a potential candidate.
Without James on the practice field, Hyde and Jewel Hampton took most of the snaps out of the backfield during Sunday’s practice.
Hampton had a terrific day both in running the ball and catching passes out of the backfield, hauling down a number of passes and picking up yards after the completion.
Hyde looked good moving through traffic, but continues to need improvement in his pass game.
Marcus Lattimore was off to the side continuing to rehab both his knee and hamstring injury. Lattimore showed good lateral movement as well as bursts of speed, but has yet to be cleared to rejoin practice.