Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James (23) celebrates his touchdown run against the Atlanta Falcons during the second quarter in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

How LaMichael James' Injury Impacts the San Francisco 49ers

Just days after second-string running back Kendall Hunter tore his ACL, fellow running back LaMichael James was carted off the field at San Francisco 49ers training camp.

James’ injury has been reported as a dislocated elbow. He is expected to miss about a month, meaning he would return prior to the beginning of the regular season.

Before Hunter’s untimely ACL tear, James’ role with San Francisco was unclear. He was expected to be used as the 49ers’ primary return man (both punts and kickoffs). However, now that Hunter will miss the entire season, James’ role has changed.

Just last week, the tailback position was of little concern to the 49ers. Now it may be of the utmost concern.

Behind Frank Gore — the running back with the most yards in franchise history — sits former Ohio State Buckeye Carlos Hyde. James now controls the third-string role along with return duties.

They also have former South Carolina standout Marcus Lattimore on their roster. He missed all of last season because of his second ACL tear and still hasn’t played a snap in the NFL.

Lattimore hasn’t been practicing at training camp even though he’s fully recovered from his ACL tear. General manager Trent Baalke told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee:

“He’s coming off, as we all know, a horrific injury,” Baalke said Saturday. “And we want to make sure, as does he, that he’s 100 percent mentally and physically ready to go to help this football team, and to give himself the best chance to compete at a high level. … But as far as setbacks, no.”

It’s still a question whether Lattimore will get back onto the field. And once on the field, no one knows how much he can produce with two bad knees. He does have the perfect mentor in Gore, who also suffered from two ACL tears.

With Anthony Dixon moving on to the Buffalo Bills early in the offseason, San Francisco may be out of internal solutions that are NFL-ready.

Perhaps San Francisco could test the free agent waters and bring in a veteran running back such as Willis McGaheeRonnie Brown or Rashard Mendenhall.

Although James should not miss much time, this injury still hurts San Francisco. The 49ers were frustrated by James’ inability to nail down the blocking schemes. This injury forces him off the field and won’t allow him the chance to really understand the schemes.

Also, this may put the 49ers at a loss for a return man. Perhaps rookie (and teammate of Lattimore at the University of South Carolina) Bruce Ellington will get a chance to return kicks during the preseason.

If Ellington doesn’t pan out and James’ injury lingers longer than expected, San Francisco may be scrambling for not only a return man, but also another running back.

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Tags: Kendall Hunter LaMichael James Marcus Lattimore

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