The 49ers’ disappointing 2012 draft class lost another member Monday when LaMichael James asked for and was granted his release.
The move, forecast by James’ often public frustration with his role, leaves the 49ers with two tailbacks on the 53-man roster and only fourth-round offensive lineman Joe Looney from their seven-player draft class from two seasons ago.
“They weren’t utilizing him, and he was frustrated,” James’ agent, Jeff Sperbeck, said in a phone interview. “It was a combination of the two.”
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said little about the move during his Monday news conference.
“We felt it was in the best interest of our team. And (we) made that move, and we’ll sign an additional player (Monday),” he said. “... Wish LaMichael well, appreciate his contributions and wish him success moving forward in his career.”
The roster addition turned out to be special-teams player and wide receiver Kassim Osgood, who was cut by the 49ers last week to avoid guaranteeing him his full contract.
During Sunday’s win over the Cowboys, two rookies received work ahead of James. Carlos Hyde was the No. 2 running back, rushing seven times for 50 yards and a touchdown, while wide receiver Bruce Ellington handled most of the return duties. Perrish Cox now becomes the top backup at punt returner.
“Was very pleased with Carlos,” Harbaugh said. “Thought he had some explosive runs, hit the hole very well, was good in his blocking and pass protection.”
James had two carries for no yards and handled one of three kick returns.
James’ exit leaves the 49ers with just two tailbacks, starter Frank Gore and Hyde.
They could stay with two until Marcus Lattimore is eligible to return from the non-football injury list after Week 6.
If they elect to sign another running back, some familiar options include Kendall Gaskins, who is on their practice squad, and Alfonso Smith and Jewel Hampton, who were with the 49ers during the preseason. The 49ers released impressive running back Glenn Winston on cut-down day last month and hoped to put him on the practice squad, but the Browns signed him.
James, 24, had been looking for a way out of San Francisco since last season, often using social media to voice frustration with his minimal role. He was productive as a rookie in 2012, but he was used only after Kendall Hunter suffered an Achilles’ tear late in the season. Last year, James rushed 12 times for 59 yards.
The 49ers tried to trade James in the offseason. When training camp began, he had a chance to seize the No. 2 role when Hunter was injured again, this time with an ACL tear. But James almost immediately dislocated his elbow, allowing Hyde to win over the coaches.
While the 49ers were parting ways with James, the Ravens cut their running back, Ray Rice, after the release of a video of him hitting his wife in an Atlantic City, N.J., hotel elevator. Another possible landing spot for James is Philadelphia, where his college coach, Chip Kelly, is the head coach
Cornerback Tramaine Brock was diagnosed with a sprained toe, and his status for Sunday’s game against Chicago is unknown. He left the Cowboys game in the first quarter but returned for a few plays at the end when Ward’s injury left the 49ers short on cornerbacks.