LaMichael James (No. 23) brings a new element of extra speed and explosiveness to the 49ers backfield.
One of the 49ers’ smallest additions could make one of the biggest impacts.
LaMichael James, the former Oregon star, has been a bit lost among the large headlines of the 49ers’ offseason.
It’s easy to get overshadowed when a team adds Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and A.J. Jenkins (with its first draft choice) and brings in huge power-running-back Brandon Jacobs from the New York Giants.
But standing on the field today on the first day of the 49ers’ three-day rookie mini camp will be James, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound dynamo whose speed and surprising strength made him the No. 1 weapon on a Ducks team that has been among the most offensively skilled teams in college football.
The 49ers like LaMike, who’ll wear No. 23 and could make impacts as a change-of-pace running back, in the passing game and on special teams as a kick returner.
At the NFL Combine, James ran a 4.45 40-yard dash, tied for second fastest among all running backs.
James participated in the 49ers’ mini camp in May, just after the draft, but missed the team’s recent workouts because the University of Oregon was still in session.
Beginning today, however, he’ll be jumping into the mix full time with the no-contact rookie mini camp that will be run by assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Brad Seely while head coach Jim Harbaugh is spending a week in Peru building houses with his church group.
The drafting of James was a bit surprising, considering the 49ers’ depth at running back: starter Frank Gore, Jacobs, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon.
But Harbaugh – who saw James up close when he coached at Stanford – and Niners GM Trent Baalke – like James’ speed and ability to make plays. At Oregon, he scored 58 TDs and rushed for 5,082 yards, while also making 51 catches and averaging 10.7 yards as a punt returner.
His skill set will create a very competitive training camp as well as give Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman a new threat to mix into the offense.
“The one thing you notice about him is he’s a playmaker,” Baalke told reporters after the April draft, when San Francisco made him a second-round choice. “He’s done it against the very best in college football on a consistent basis, which is hard to do. When you get the ball in his hands, he can make plays. …
“What we’ve tried to do is add speed and explosiveness to this offense, to this football team.”
Baalke referred to his group of running backs as a “full house.”
“It’s a good hand, right,” he joked. “In poker a full house is a good hand. He allows you to carry an extra guy just because of his versatility and what he brings.”
Said James, to NFL.com: “I feel like I have a variety of skill sets. Returning ability, I can run in between the tackles, I can catch the ball, I can do pretty much everything they ask me to do.”