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Jim Harbaugh: LaMichael James Estimates Quick Return

Posted Jul 31, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers head coach estimated a probable return date for the injured third-year running back.

LaMichael James was poised to compete for a bigger role this season. Then he got hurt.

The third-year running back injured his left elbow in a 1-on-1 blitz pickup drill on Sunday. James suffered the injury trying to block inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

It was an unfortunate setback for the young runner, and it was even tougher considering the team had lost fourth-year running back Kendall Hunter to a torn ACL two days prior.

Despite the injury, Jim Harbaugh was optimistic that James could return to action prior to San Francisco's Week 1 road matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.

"Trainers are predicting and LaMichael has a short amount of time predicted," the 49ers coach said on Wednesday. "He’s had the injury before and we’ll see. Right now, I’m hopeful and going with LaMichael’s estimation."

The injury Harbaugh mentioned was a dislocated left elbow in college. James, the former standout at the University of Oregon, missed 23 days of action in 2011 and still ended up being a second-round draft pick for the 49ers.

So does Harbaugh expect James, the team's top punt and kick returner, to be ready by Sept. 7, the opener in Dallas? San Francisco's coach said it's possible if James' prediction is accurate.

"Yes," Harbaugh said, "and under LaMichael’s estimation, sooner than that."

James will most likely wear a brace once he returns.

For now, the 49ers have used cornerback Perrish Cox and receivers Devon Wylie, Bruce Ellington and Quinton Patton in the return game. Rookie running back Carlos Hyde has also received some looks at kick returner.

"The role of punt returner, it’s still being determined," Harbaugh said. "Still determining who our best punt returners are. LaMichael James will be in that mix. Perrish Cox has been and will continue to be in that mix, as well as Bruce Ellington."

To fill the void on offense, the team added to the running back group by signing veteran Alfonso Smith. San Francisco worked out the former Arizona Cardinals runner on Monday and felt good about his performance. Smith was signed shortly after.

"We’ve played against him," Harbaugh said. "He’s a fine special teams player and more than competent, capable back. Thing that impressed me the most was that he came in in shape, ready to go. Looked serious about wanting a job, and going after it. Could tell that from his workout. He was working out a good amount of time but not the normal length that we would put a running back through a workout because it was obvious we were going to sign this guy."

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