SANTA CLARA Marcus Lattimore merely observed when the 49ers rookies took the practice field Friday. The running back's big achievement came a day earlier at Stanford Hospital.
Every member of the 49ers' rookie class was given a physical, and team doctors took another look at Lattimore's right knee, which was twisted in grotesque fashion on Oct. 27. Lattimore was left with three torn knee ligaments and a dislocated kneecap, and his rehabilitation was one of the more remarkable story lines in the run-up to last month's draft.
The 49ers ended up picking Lattimore in the fourth round, and coach Jim Harbaugh said the most recent images of his knee were promising.
"Everything looks good structurally with all the guys that we drafted," he said. "The ACL looks really good for Marcus. We're just going to have to take a step back in terms of the cutting because we want that inside of the knee, the lateral side of the knee, to heal fully. But we're good."
In the months before the draft, Lattimore pushed to show NFL teams that he could recover from the damaged knee he also tore the ACL in his left knee in 2011 and was fueled by a desire to play in 2013.
After the draft, however, Harbaugh instructed Lattimore to slow down his rehabilitation, and he hinted that Lattimore might not play in 2013 to ensure that he's healthy in 2014. How would Lattimore handle sitting out a season?
"I think that would be fine," he said. "Whatever happens, you know, these next three months will probably determine that. I'm just going to continue to keep working hard, and if I'm called upon, I feel like hopefully I'll be ready."
He noted that the team has plenty of depth at the position with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon and Jewel Hampton. Gore, who also recovered from two ACL injuries in college, called Lattimore last year to offer support, but the only veteran running back he has met so far in Santa Clara, Lattimore said, is Dixon.
Lattimore could begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, which would give the 49ers the option of activating him later in the year if they need a running back. Harbaugh, however, said he wanted to avoid "hypotheticals" and said no decisions had been made on Lattimore or second-round pick Cornelius "Tank" Carradine, a defensive end who also suffered an ACL tear last season and who sat out Friday's practice.
Two other rookies, fifth-round pick Quinton Dial (defensive end) and undrafted free agent Luke Marquardt (offensive tackle), also will miss the three-day rookie minicamp with toe and foot injuries, respectively.
Harbaugh said the 49ers' training staff, led by head trainer Jeff Ferguson, was excited by the challenge presented by the team's 2013 draft class.
"It's the Super Bowl for them," he said. "They're fired up about that."