SANTA CLARA Lesson No. 1 for rookie running back LaMichael James: That circular, 11-man formation in which the quarterback calls the play?
It's called a huddle.
James, after all, never was part of one at Oregon, where plays were sent in from the sideline and the objective was to snap the ball as quickly as possible. The way they do it in the NFL is different and, frankly, it's a bit slow, James said Thursday.
"Just being in a huddle," he said. "I think that's slow to me because I've never been in a huddle. At Oregon, we ran plays back-to-back-to-back-to-back. I never just ran a play and got in a huddle. I had to adjust to that a little bit, too. Not slow as in the tempo but just the plays."
He said he hadn't been in a huddle since high school in Texarkana, Texas.
"Ready break," he said. "That's about all I got from it."
The learning process has gone more rapidly.
Because Oregon's school year was still in session at the beginning of June, James missed virtually all of the 49ers' spring practices. When he looked at the new playbook, well, "I'd never seen anything so different in my life," he said.
Whereas Oregon overwhelmed defenses by spreading them out and striking with lightning quickness, the 49ers' offense is predicated on power, a dizzying array of formations and running the ball between the tackles.
That would appear to make James, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 195 pounds, an odd fit. But 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman noted Thursday that James was very good at running the ball inside at Oregon.
"There's a general misconception among some people who think just because a guy isn't a big guy, he can't run inside," said Roman, who as a Stanford assistant coach watched James firsthand. "I think we have the guy who proves that theory wrong, and that's Frank (Gore). He's not a giant, but he has such incredible vision and foot quickness, and his mind and his feet work together. LaMichael is a guy who has really good vision, as well."
James, meanwhile, has been hearing since grade school that he's too small to play football. He said he's already been tested by the 49ers' defense during the padded practice sessions.
"I've been knocked down ample times. It doesn't matter, doesn't hurt," James said. "We're all in it for the same goal. I'm happy it's happening. It's getting me ready for the season."
Et cetera Thursday's practice was marked by tipped balls and interceptions. The 49ers' quarterbacks threw seven total, and Alex Smith and Scott Tolzien each had multiple turnovers. One of Smith's was a deflection off of Mario Manningham.
Michael Crabtree (calf) missed his fifth practice. Fellow wide receiver Joe Hastings (leg) also sat out the session, while Kyle Williams came up gimpy late in practice with an unknown injury.
Defensive end Justin Smith did not dress for practice. Smith was routinely given days off because of his veteran status last year, and this appeared to be one of them.