LaMichael James is ready to make his preseason debut Sunday, but he’ll do so without the bulky, plastic brace that he says was like wearing “a 10-pound dumbbell on my arm.”
James tossed aside that brace for a lighter, more pliable one that he’ll wear against the San Diego Chargers. The 49ers running back suffered a dislocated right elbow on July 27 while trying to block linebacker Michael Wilhoite in a pass-protection drill.
James said he immediately knew what happened. He suffered similar dislocations in high school and college. The one at Oregon occurred Oct. 6, 2011, in a game against Cal. Three weeks later, he was back on the field.
James said he planned to do everything normal Sunday with the hope that the brace protects his arm.
The exhibition season has been rough throughout James’ young pro career.
He suffered an ankle injury in his second exhibition game as a rookie. The next year, he sprained his knee during the third preseason game. Both caused him to tumble down the 49ers’ depth chart at running back, something he wants to avoid in 2014.
“I just really want to be out there with my teammates, competing and just playing,” he said. “The medicine’s on the field, just like coach (Jim) Harbaugh said.”
With both James and Kendall Hunter (torn ACL) out of the lineup, rookie Carlos Hyde has taken over as the No. 2 running back and has performed well. Another rookie, Bruce Ellington, has assumed punt- and kick-return duties, but James said he expected to handle punts against the Chargers.
“There’s a very good chance of that,” Harbaugh said. “(There are) still things that can happen before that decision could be made.”
The 49ers must decide which player – teams only can pick one – gets that designation by Sept. 2.
In the meantime, Ian Williams is the top candidate to start at nose tackle. Williams looks ready to play in his first game since suffering a broken ankle in Week 2 last season.
“The movement, the quickness, the burst of separation, driving to the ball – he looks better than before,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what I’ve seen so far.”
• Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd still is dealing with a minor injury that Harbaugh would not reveal, and it’s unclear whether he will play Sunday.
• Receiver Michael Crabtree is back from Texas, where he attended the birth of his son, Michael Crabtree III.