Running back LaMichael James sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Chargers, according to a league source. James went to the sideline and iced the left knee during the rest of the first half. The injury is believed to be a Grade 2 sprain, which typically requires three or four weeks of recovery. The 49ers have not given a time line for his return. James was seen limping after the game.
James was the team's No. 2 running back behind Frank Gore throughout the offseason as Kendall Hunter rehabilitated from an Achilles' injury suffered late last season. James had 24 carries for 55 yards and a 2.3-yard average during the preseason. Hunter is back and started Thursday's game at tailback.
James was inactive for the first 12 games of his rookie season last year. However, he gave the team a spark following Hunter's injury. He averaged 4.6 yards a carry in the final four regular-season games and 5.9 yards a carry in the postseason and Super Bowl. He also handled kick returns, averaging an impressive 29.8 yards a return in the regular season.
James also has served as the team's primary punt returner this offseason. Kyle Williams likely would take over those duties if, as expected, James cannot play early in the season. Rookie Quinton Patton handled the first two kick returns in Thursday's finale. He, Hunter, Perrish Cox or Williams are capable of handling those duties in James' absence. Receiver Lavelle Hawkins, who is believed to be on the roster bubble, returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown in Sunday's game. He also had a 33-yard return in the second half against the Chargers.
-- Matt Barrows