49ers running back LaMichael James sidelined with injury

  • San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James, left, is hauled down by San Diego Chargers linebacker Frank Beltre, right, during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — LaMichael James' knee injury is expected to sideline him for the start of the 49ers' season, which opens Sept. 8 against the Green Bay Packers.

James, a return specialist and reserve running back, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during Thursday night's exhibition finale at San Diego, the Sacramento Bee first reported Friday.

Consequently, the 49ers will have to adjust their return units, read-option offense and perhaps even their roster, which must be cut to 53 players by 3 p.m. Saturday. The 5-foot-9 James could be out a few weeks, but he's proved to be a quick healer in the past.

Punt-return duties likely will fall to Kyle Williams, who did not play in the exhibition season as a precaution. Williams has said he's recovered from a training-camp hamstring strain and last season's anterior-cruciate-ligament tear.

Perrish Cox, the 49ers' No. 5 cornerback, also gained experience this exhibition season returning punts and kickoffs. Roster hopefuls Chad Hall and Lavelle Hawkins could be in the mix, too, along with rookie wideout Quinton Patton.

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