49ers' Marcus Lattimore returns

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Wednesday is Marcus Lattimore's 23rd birthday, and at the risk of being overly dramatic, he also feels reborn.

Lattimore shredded his right knee so badly on Oct. 27, 2012 -- two days shy of his 21st birthday -- at South Carolina there were thoughts the playmaking running back might not walk normally again. But after two years of rehabilitation, he will practice with the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's just a great day," said Lattimore, who made his practice debut with the 49ers a year ago but wasn't activated after a three-week evaluation. "I haven't had too many great birthdays because my left knee happened around my birthday and my right knee happened around my birthday so this is just a great day. I mean, I'm excited, happy and I'm going to enjoy this.

"Today is just a blessing."

Lattimore has twice gone through extensive knee rehabilitation. He tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in 2011. Then in 2012, his right knee ruptured on a devastating hit in South Carolina's game against Tennessee.

Lattimore, who tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee in October of 2011, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Niners despite his college career ending with the devastating injury that tore every ligament in his right knee and dislocated the kneecap. He was a potential first-round draft pick but sat until San Francisco selected him 131st overall as his rehab was already underway.

There did not seem to be any setbacks, but the 49ers were careful with him as he first expected to be a full go this preseason. Rather, he began the year on the reserve/non-football injury list.

By hitting the practice field Wednesday, his 21-day window opens and the Niners have the three weeks to gauge him and decide whether to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

"I've been watching him off to the side and I'm excited to watch him out there playing football again," coach Jim Harbaugh said of Lattimore. "We saw some of it in the offseason, but I think he's further ahead from where he was two, three months ago and (I'm) excited to see that progress on the field.

"I'm looking forward to it."

Not as much as Lattimore, obviously.

"It was a huge injury," he said. "I knew it would take a long time. I feel good."

Lattimore said he has embraced his lot as a role model for athletes who have suffered knee injuries and said his faith and talks with his mother and sister helped him through bad days.

"And there were a lot of bad days," he said. "Just talk to people. Don't keep it in."

Beyond the 21-day window opening, Lattimore said he is not sure of the team's plans. He could be on special teams or even getting first-team reps ahead of Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde.

"Yeah, and I think we can give a little extra contact when we have the pads on for Marcus," Harbaugh said. "Pass protection, sled, hitting sleds and maybe thudding up a little bit extra outside of the normal practice drills."

And that's just fine with Lattimore.

"It takes time," he said. "I don't know how long, but I've just got to get out there."