James hopes to return punts Sunday

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- LaMichael James has been itching for a chance to contribute this season for the San Francisco 49ers.

Sunday, it could come as a return man. The second-year player said he has been practicing punt returns, working after practice at it. He said Thursday he has not been told if he will return punts (he has also been working on kickoffs), but he said in his mind, he is expecting to be the return man.

“I have been taking more reps, even after practice, just seeing the ball and trying to improve,” James said. “I always expect to play.”

There may be an opening. Kyle Williams struggled badly in the 49ers’ last game, a win against Jacksonville in London. He was replaced by Anthony Dixon on kickoffs. It is possible both James and Dixon could take over this week.

Coach Jim Harbaugh said recently that James, who has been a healthy scratch in recent weeks, is too good not to play and needed to find a role.

James has never returned a punt in the NFL. He struggled in that area in the preseason, but he did have some success returning kicks. James said his extra practice has made him an improved punt returner.

“You got to study the ball and you got to play the wind,” James said. “There are a lot of things that come with it, and you have to grow and you have to learn. I feel like I’m well-conditioned for it now.”

Meanwhile, the proud Oregon alum is planning on attending the Ducks’ huge Pac-12 game at Stanford on Thursday night. He said he has a bet of a milkshake with an unnamed San Francisco coach. Harbaugh and several of his assistants were previously at Stanford.

He smiled when asked if the bet is with Harbaugh.

“I like milkshakes,” James said.