NFL doctors dissect healing Marcus Lattimore

jkendall@thestate.comFebruary 22, 2013 

— Marcus Lattimore won’t work out for NFL scouts here this week, but he showed some impressive stamina Friday.

The former South Carolina running back, who gave up his final year of eligibility with the Gamecocks to enter the professional ranks, was put through a marathon medical evaluation by team doctors at the NFL Combine. He was poked, prodded and questioned for almost four hours by doctors and professional evaluators to see how far his right knee has come since he tore three ligaments, including his ACL, on Oct. 27 against Tennessee.

“They are investing a lot of money into you so I understand the process and why they have to make sure everything is OK and everything is progressing,” Lattimore said. “I think it went very well because a lot of guys were surprised by how strong my quads were and how strong my hamstrings were and how tight my ligaments were. I think it went pretty good.”

Someone from each of the NFL’s 32 teams was present during the process, which included examinations and strength testing, Lattimore said. Medical evaluations here usually take two hours, former Indianapolis general manager Bill Polian said.

Lattimore has been training at Dr. James Andrews’ facility near Pensacola, Fla., preparing for this week, and Andrews told USA Today last week that Lattimore was ahead of the normal rehabilitation schedule.

Lattimore is so far ahead, he said Friday, that he hopes to be able to hold an individual workout for NFL teams in Columbia in early April in which he can perform some football drills. He will not participate in any on-field drills here but will have plenty to do, including interviewing with teams and taking psychological evaluations.

Lattimore has had reconstructive surgery on both knees in the last 16 months, but he felt fortunate to be standing at a podium at Lucas Oil Stadium, he said.

“It’s a blessing to be here, no doubt. I will not take this opportunity I have for granted,” he said. “I just think about guys who are less fortunate than me, guys who would kill to be in my shoes right now, even with the injury. That’s what keeps me going.”

It remains unclear if Lattimore will be able to play during the 2013 season, he said.

“At this point it really doesn’t matter where I get drafted because I am going to do what I do,” he said. “I am going to do what I’ve been doing my whole career, and that’s just be myself. If I get a chance to play this year, I am going to make the most of it, and I think I will.”

Lattimore, the No. 6 rusher in South Carolina history with 2,677 career yards, gained 662 yards in nine games in 2012 while weighing 215 pounds. He weighed 195 pounds after his most recent surgery, he said, but rebounded to weigh in at 221 pounds Friday, he said.

Gil Brandt, former Dallas Cowboys vice president for player personnel and NFL.com draft analyst, doesn’t think Lattimore will be picked higher than the third round, but he’s rooting for Lattimore, he said.

“The thing about it is you are betting on a guy who is such a good guy,” Brandt said.

Lattimore was “probably” a first round pick before his injury, Brandt said.

“San Francisco has 14 picks in this draft,” Brandt said. “If I’ve got an extra third and I’m San Francisco, I might take him.”

San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh declined to discuss Lattimore’s situation but said there’s more confidence now in drafting players coming off an injury because of what 49ers running back “Frank Gore and several guys have been able to do,” coming back from major knee injuries.

It’s Gore that Lattimore hopes to emulate in rehabilitation and beyond, he said.

“If I could compare myself to anybody, it would be Frank Gore,” Lattimore said. “He’s got low pad level, he can see the whole field and great balance.”

Former Lattimore teammate T.J. Johnson, who is also here working out for teams, thinks Lattimore will have a successful return “because of the type of guy Marcus is,” Johnson said.

“He’s a winner,” Johnson said. “He has overcome injuries in the past, and he’ll overcome this. That’s what he does. He’ll be ready.”

Whenever Lattimore returns to the field, he won’t worry about re-injury, he said.

“I have been hit 2,000 times and that happened twice, so I’m not even thinking about it,” he said.

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