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49ers like ex-Duck James' determination

LaMichael James, Oregon's all-time leading rusher and the San Francisco 49ers' second-round draft pick, debuted on the 49ers practice field Friday. He didn't flinch at his new surroundings.

"He's just got a great look in his eye," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.

It's a familiar look to Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell, who said anyone judging James on his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame will regret it.

"He'll be so determined," Campbell said in a phone interview. "You can't measure the size of his heart or the drive inside him.

"It'll be difficult to hold him down. He relishes challenges."

James had the slightest build among all 49ers rookies who reported for their three-day minicamp. But while some, including first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins, gasped for air during the morning practice, James didn't.

"Everything's quick-paced at Oregon," James said, "and I'm pretty used to the tempo."

Oregon became used to James' game-breaking speed and knack for plays. His past three seasons ended on college football's grandest of stages: two Rose Bowls and a BCS national championship game.

"He has a special talent for stepping up when the need arises to make a play and be a leader," Campbell added.

James downplayed the jump he's making to the "bigger and stronger" NFL, merely stating that "football is football" and that he simply needs to stay relaxed.

He looked at ease Friday when he was fielding kickoffs, catching swing passes and running out of the backfield. Odds are he'll multitask for a 49ers team that has a seemingly stacked roster and crowded backfield.

This minicamp will be James' best chance to make an impression for a while. League rules preclude him from working out again with the 49ers until after Oregon's graduation ceremonies June 18.

"First impressions go a long way," James said. "But there's no way I can go out and be an extreme great player within three days of having the playbook. It's going to take time, and I know that. But I'm willing to work hard."

Harbaugh knows what he is getting in James perhaps more than any other rookie, a result of Oregon's clashes with Harbaugh's Stanford teams in 2009 and 2010.

But Campbell knows James best.

"Since our season ended, he's put on weight, and he's going to be dedicated," Campbell said. "Of all the guys I've coached, he has a great feel of the game and is able to tell me exactly where everybody is at."

James broke into Oregon's backfield as a freshman in 2009, forced into the spotlight once LeGarrette Blount was suspended after punching an opponent after the Ducks' season-opening loss at Boise State.

"He'll do a very good job preparing himself," Campbell said. "He's a special guy. We're going to miss him."

Campbell recalled James being "mediocre" in his first start against Purdue (nine carries, 56 yards). But James sure rebounded, rushing for more than 100 yards in 26 of his ensuing 36 career games.

"Oregon's a little different offense, so coming in here and grasping an NFL offense, it might be difficult at first," James said, "but I'll get it down pat. I need to adapt to what they're doing."