It's hard to tell someone who can cover 40 yards in four seconds to slow down when he has the ball in his hands, but that's been Frank Gore's advice to rookie LaMichael James.
"It's not how fast you run through the hole, it's about being patient," Gore said Tuesday. "When he used to get the ball, he used to try and just use his speed. I told him he's got to let things develop and be patient. Then when you see it, that's when you can go fast through the hole."
James - finally - is on the verge of being able to take advantage of Gore's tutelage.
Both coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke hinted this week that the second-round draft pick will get to play - or at least suit up - for an upcoming game for the first time this season. "I think that's a real possibility, and he's worked hard for an opportunity," Harbaugh said on KNBR radio Tuesday.
Gore gave his own hints about why James' debut has been delayed to this point. James was one of the most electric players in college football last season, running for 1,805 yards and and scoring 18 touchdowns.
But Gore noted that he had plenty of room to roam in the University of Oregon's wide-open offense. In the NFL, those spaces simply don't exist, and running backs have to make do with a crease here or a small gap there. Gore in particular has become adept at waiting for the tiniest of openings to appear and then lowering his shoulder pads and squeezing through before they close.
"I've seen that he's gotten a lot better from when he first got here until now," Gore said. "... He's gotten better in small spaces. You watch his film in college - there's a lot of big spaces, and the NFL is different. Early on he had a tough time with that, but from when I first saw him he's gotten a lot better."
When the 49ers' second-leading rusher, Kendall Hunter, went down with an Achilles injury Nov. 25, the speculation was that James would step in because they have similar speed and profiles. Instead, Brandon Jacobs was the No. 2 tailback Sunday against the Rams, and he rushed four times for six yards.
Gore noted that James was not simply a facsimile of Hunter. At this point in their careers, he said, Hunter simply is stronger than the rookie. "I think he can help," Gore said of James. "But Kendall's a different type of player. They're both fast, but Kendall - it's hard to tackle him, too."
James, meanwhile, admitted it's been difficult to watch games from the sideline when he's perfectly healthy and that the constant question - why haven't you been playing? - has been annoying. He said he hasn't been told yet whether he'd be in uniform Sunday against the Dolphins.
"I feel like I can go out there and help the team and obviously I prep for it each and every week," James said. "Hopefully I can provide a spark."
-- Matt Barrows