‘I’m ready to play’: Lattimore optimistic as he heads to 49ers mini-camp

dcloninger@thestate.comApril 19, 2014 

Marcus Lattimore aches.

Not his surgically rebuilt knees. Lattimore has devotedly rehabbed since that awful day at Williams-Brice Stadium in 2012 so that he will be ready to carry the football when the 2014 NFL season begins.

It’s the waiting. From the time he was a tot, Lattimore was not only a football player but the football player. Having to wait for so much of his recent past – the final part of the 2011 season, the final part of the 2012 season and all of the 2013 season – has left a void.

He said he understands that it’s a necessary part of his recovery, as San Francisco drafted him with an eye on the future, not an immediate impact. But watching from the sideline hurts.

“After my injury, I just wanted to walk again,” Lattimore said on Friday. “It was tough, very tough. We’re a playoff team, so we play 20-plus games. Being on that sideline, we got so close to the Super Bowl title the last three years.

“But I’m blessed to be in this situation. Never would have thought in a million years I’d be in this situation.”

Lattimore leaves Sunday night for Santa Clara, Calif., and a 49ers minicamp. He’s stayed with his family in the Upstate since last year’s playoffs, working out in Greenville five days a week, and watched as the 49ers have made moves.

Backup running back Anthony Dixon signed with Buffalo. News broke on Friday that the 49ers might be shopping another backup, LaMichael James, for draft picks. If James leaves, San Francisco will be down to four running backs – franchise all-time rushing leader Frank Gore, top backup Kendall Hunter, Lattimore and Jewel Hampton, who, like Lattimore, never has played in an NFL game.

Lattimore heard about the James report and recognized the opportunity. The ache is subsiding into a flutter of optimism.

“If that happens, it does put me in that No. 3 spot,” Lattimore said. “But I’ve just got to go in there and work hard. I can pass-protect and run the ball. I’ve got to show that.”

The 49ers have been impressed with Lattimore’s intensity. Fullback Bruce Miller was wowed early.

“I’m excited for him,” Miller said in a video interview with the 49ers’ media staff. “I got to watch him a lot in college, and he was exciting. Seeing his work ethic out here, I don’t expect anything less but for him to step in and be a productive player.”

Gore is the starter, having logged more than 2,100 career carries and posting seven 1,000-yard seasons in his nine-year tenure. But Gore will be 31 years old when the season begins, and the 49ers want to limit his carries so he can last. Hunter and Lattimore can be the guys who help save that wear and tear.

“Me and Kendall want to have a chance to do that,” Lattimore said. “Go out there and help that team. If we can go and take some pressure of Frank, we can also help (Colin Kaepernick) move around.”

Kapernick also can open opposing defenses with his legs. Lattimore, who blocked for mobile QBs Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw at South Carolina, has had to upgrade his run-blocking for the taller, faster Kaepernick.

“He’s faster than us. Probably one of the fastest people on the team,” Lattimore said. “We’ve got to be aware, be aware of what he’s going to do and react.”

The 49ers begin minicamp on Monday and will go for six weeks, the first two mostly strength and conditioning and then starting to work in 7-on-7 drills. Lattimore will stay in his Santa Clara apartment, re-learn the playbook and see who his new teammates will be.

He’ll reunite with some of the other players who had to sit out last year because of injuries – fellow former Gamecock Chris Culliver, defensive tackle Tank Carradine, tackle Luke Marquardt – and keep working. The ache and pain of not playing will get a tiny bit less each day, as he gets closer to recording his first NFL carry.

As for the regular season, Lattimore won’t be tempted to approach fiery coach Jim Harbaugh for playing time during a game.

“If he wants to put me in, he’ll put me in,” Lattimore said, laughing. “If I prove it in practice, I don’t think there’s no excuse why I can’t play. I’m ready.”

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