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See what The Bee's Matt Barrows had to say during Monday's a live chat focusing on the 49ers, who are in camp and in pads, beginning earnest preparation for the upcoming NFL season.

Live chat: Real work begins for 49ers, 1 p.m. July 28

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Third-round draft pick Chris Borland was one of several standouts on defense for the 49ers Sunday.

All offseason, Jim Harbaugh has talked about how the defensive line is a “position of strength” for the 49ers. That's been on display over the last two days of padded practice, including on Sunday.

The second-team offensive line has been overmatched, even when starting linemen Justin Smith (shoulder), Ray McDonald and Glenn Dorsey aren't on the field. Tony Jerod-Eddie and Demarcus Dobbs have been filling in at defensive end with the first-string string defense, and Jerod-Eddie flashed in Sunday's practice.

Their backups, Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial, also have looked good. Dial is very big and he got the better of first-team (for now) right tackle Jonathan Martin on a couple of plays late in the practice. And that's not mentioning Lawrence Okoye, who is perhaps the strongest player on the team and someone who has been hard to handle at times, especially on his bull rush.

The big dilemma for the 49ers: Who stays and who goes when rosters are reduced late next month. NFL teams must trim rosters to 75 players by Aug. 26. they must be down to 53 men on Aug. 30.

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Tony Avelar/ AP
Second-year player Lawrence Okoye showed off his strength in pass-rush drills on Saturday

Poor Jonathan Martin.

His counterpart on the defensive line, Lawrence Okoye, was so eager about the 49ers’ first padded practice of the summer that he tweeted about the occasion that morning. Okoye is a massive guy, the team’s weight-room champion, and as a result of going on injured reserve last year, he hadn’t donned pads and hit anyone since August. In other words, he was champing at the bit for some real contact.

That's where Martin came in. The only true contact during the team's first padded practice this afternoon occurred during one-on-one pass-blocking drills between the offensive and defensive linemen. First up was Okoye at left defensive end, against Martin at right tackle.

On the very first snap Okoye sent Martin sprawling seven yards backward and planted him on his back, which of course drew plenty of shouts and murmurs from the assembled defensive linemen. Okoye also won Round 2, though certainly not as decisively.

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Reinhold Matay/Associated Press file
LaMichael James, fielding a kick against Tampa Bay on Dec. 15, was in the mix to be the 49ers’ No. 2 running back.
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Uncredited/AP
For the third consecutive year, LaMichael James will have to come back from an injury entering the regular season.

LaMichael James, who Sunday morning appeared poised to become the 49ers’ No. 2 running back because of Kendall Hunter’s injury, suffered a dislocated elbow in practice in the afternoon and will miss about a month.

Suddenly, the 49ers, who had one of the deepest and most intriguing running back groups in the NFL when training camp began Thursday, are thin at the position.

Rookie Carlos Hyde and seldom-used Jewel Hampton are the only healthy runners behind starter Frank Gore. They split nearly all of the repetitions Sunday after James went down early in practice.

Another tailback, Marcus Lattimore, began camp on the non-football injury list. Saturday, general manager Trent Baalke said Lattimore was close to joining practice but did not have a timeline for his return.

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LaMichael James, in line to be the 49ers’ No. 2 running back this year, suddenly is out a month after sustaining an elbow injury today.

LaMichael James, who yesterday appeared poised to become the 49ers’ No. 2 running back due to Kendall Hunter’s injury, suffered a dislocated elbow in practice today and will miss a month. Suddenly the 49ers, who had one of the deepest and most intriguing running-back groups in the NFL when training camp began Thursday, are thin at the position.

Rookie Carlos Hyde and seldom-used Jewel Hampton are the only healthy runners behind starter Frank Gore. They split nearly all of the repetitions today after James went down early in practice. Another tailback, Marcus Lattimore, began camp on the non-football injury list. On Saturday, general manager Trent Baalke said Lattimore was “close” to joining practice but did not have a time line for his return.

James, a former second-round draft pick, was going against inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite in a blitz pick-up drill when he was blown backward and immediately went to the ground clutching his left arm. He was later carted off the field. James suffered an ankle injury in preseason during his rookie year in 2012 and sprained his MCL (knee) ligament in preseason last year. Both caused him to miss the early part of the regular season and to drop down the depth chart at running back.

He also suffered a dislocated right elbow in 2011 while at Oregon. He missed the next two games before returning and carrying the ball 13 times against Washington State.

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Nhat V. Meyer/ NCT
Tramaine Brock, who led the 49ers in interceptions last year, enters 2014 as the team’s top cornerback

During Saturday's practice, Tramaine Brock showed why the 49ers felt comfortable moving on from long-time starting cornerbacks Carlos Rogers and Tarell Brown in the offseason.

Brock, who has been lining up at left cornerback, picked off one pass during the afternoon practice and in quick succession broke up two others. It was an early indication that his team-leading five interceptions a year ago – plus the tipped pass that linebacker NaVorro Bowman snagged against Atlanta – were not an aberration.

Jim Harbaugh said that both Brock and the starter on the other side, Chris Culliver, who appears fully recovered from last year’s ACL injury, are playing at a “different level” from the other cornerbacks on the team. The stance was echoed by general manager Trent Baalke.

“We feel good about the group, we really do,” he said. “... Brock and Culliver are two very competitive, very gifted athletes, and you see that every day out there.”

The 49ers activated two draft picks from injury lists -- outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who suffered a hamstring strain in the spring, and center Marcus Martin, who rolled his ankle prior to training camp.

Lynch, a fifth-round pick from South Florida, will compete with Dan Skuta, Corey Lemonier and Chase Thomas for reptitions behind starters Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. Martin is a third-round pick from USC. He’s currently the top backup at center behind Daniel Kilgore and could get some repetitions at right guard behind Joe Looney.

That the rookies are now on the active roster doesn’t necessarily mean they immediately will rejoin practice. Fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington (ankle) was activated on Friday so he could take part in morning walk-throughs. He is close to rejoining practice but has not yet done so.

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File/ File
Marcus Lattimore is still dealing with complications from his 2012 knee injury and is not fully healthy for the start of training camp.

Marcus Lattimore has missed the first three days of training camp after taking part in practices in May and June. But 49ers general manager Trent Baalke insists the running back has not encountered a setback in his return from reconstructive knee surgery.

"He's coming off, as we all know, a horrific injury," Baalke said Saturday. "And we want to make sure, as does he, that he's 100 percent mentally and physically ready to go to help this football team, and to give himself the best chance to compete at a high level. ... But as far as setbacks, no."

Lattimore suffered the injury to his right knee in October 2012 and the damage was so severe that doctors wondered if he'd even be able to walk in the first year after the surgery to repair it. Lattimore practiced with the 49ers during the spring but suffered a hamstring strain in his right leg that kept him from running at full speed.

Before training camp, team doctors placed him on the non-football injury list, a designation that means his issues remain related to the 2012 injury suffered in college. The running back has been doing the same types of exercises on a side field that he did last season. Baalke suggested Lattimore's staggered start this year is partially mental in nature.

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The Associated Press
Aldon Smith is subject to punishment from the NFL after pleading no contest to DUI and weapons violations.

The 49ers expect Commissioner Roger Goodell to decide on a punishment for outside linebacker Aldon Smith before the regular season and perhaps before the team’s Aug. 7 preseason opener at Baltimore.

“It’s not something that’s going to drag into the season,” general manager Trent Baalke said Saturday. “And it may not even drag as far as into the preseason games itself. It’s something that’s going to be addressed. We’ve been in contact with the league. The league has been in contact with us. But we don’t have a set date at this moment.”

The first step will be a meeting between Smith, who was sentenced this month to 12 days on a work crew after pleading no contest to DUI and weapons violations, and Goodell in New York. That meeting could occur this week with Goodell’s ruling coming shortly thereafter.

Baalke said owner Jed York has spoken with Goodell, but the 49ers don’t know what Smith’s punishment will entail.

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Jeff Chiu/ The Associated Press
LaMichael James (23) said he would compete for the 49ers’ No. 2 running back role in honor of Kendall Hunter (32), who likely is out for the season.

Earlier this year, the 49ers’ LaMichael James was pining to be traded from a team on which he received scant carries last season and had a glut of running backs.

Saturday, however, James found himself in position to be the team’s No. 2 running back. The player who previously held that distinction, Kendall Hunter, went down with what was diagnosed as an ACL injury Friday and likely will have to sit out the season. Another challenger, Marcus Lattimore, has had a staggered start this offseason and is still not ready to join practices.

That leaves James as the most experienced runner on the team behind starter Frank Gore.

James on Saturday said he would compete in Hunter’s honor. Hunter is one of his best friends on the team, and James said he spoke with him well into Friday night.

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Paul Kitagaki/ The Bee
Kendall Hunter, who has been Frank Gore’s main backup at tailback, has suffered his second severe injury in as many years
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Kendall Hunter’s injury makes LaMichael James the most experienced running back on the 49ers’ roster after starter Frank Gore.

Earlier this year LaMichael James was eager to be traded from a team on which he received scant carries last season and on which there was a glut of running backs.

Now James finds himself as perhaps the team's No. 2 option only three days into training camp. The player who previously held that distinction, Kendall Hunter, went down with an ACL injury on Friday and likely will have to sit out the season. Another challenger, Marcus Lattimore, has had a staggered start this offseason and is still not healthy enough to join practices.

That leaves James as the most experienced runner on the team behind starter Frank Gore.

James on Saturday said he would compete in Hunter’s honor. Hunter is one of his best friends on the team and someone he said he spoke with well into Friday night. “I've got to go out there and compete, and when I feel I just can't give any more I've got to give a little extra for him, too,” James said. “... I know everybody's looking at me now. I'm just going to go out there and work hard.”

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Center Daniel Kilgore’s athleticism could allow for more screen plays this season.

Greg Roman says the 49ers work on screen plays in practice and they “always have them in our back pocket.” This year, there might be a better opportunity to move them from the back pocket to the play list.

One of the reasons is the change at center. While veteran Jonathan Goodwin was smart and a calming force on the offensive line, he wasn't known for his athleticism. His probable replacement, Daniel Kilgore, has quicker feet and the ability to block down field.

“He's really good in space, at the second level,” Roman said Saturday. “He's a very good athlete.”

LaMichael James' presence also could lead to more screens. He's the quickest tailback on the roster. And while he's been working on running between the tackles in the NFL, he was very effective at operating in space in college. He averaged 12.4 yards a catch his final season at Oregon.

For 49ers blog posts before May 2014, go to the blog archives

MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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Note: The 49ers blog switched blog platforms in May 2014. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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