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Lattimore eyes return to NFL radar

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Alex Marvez

Alex Marvez is a Senior NFL Writer for FOXSports.com. He has covered the NFL for the past 18 seasons as a beat writer and is the former president of the Pro Football Writers of America. He also is a frequent host on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

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MOBILE, ALA.

The mantra is working for Marcus Lattimore.

“I always say, ‘Adversity introduces a man to himself,’ ” the star South Carolina running back said this week during a Senior Bowl visit. “That’s a quote that pops in my mind every time I’m going through a hard day or don’t feel like doing something. That keeps me going.”

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Lattimore has plenty of other motivation as well.

Not only is he trying to recover from a knee injury even more serious than one he suffered the previous season, Lattimore wants to convince an interested NFL suitor that he would be available to play at the start of the 2013 regular season. The earlier Lattimore gets drafted, the more guaranteed money in his rookie contract.

To that end, Lattimore made an unscheduled visit earlier this week to Mobile (his early-entry junior status would have kept Lattimore from playing in the Senior Bowl anyway). He said his intent was “just letting teams see me walk around — I feel that’s big — and know I’m going to be fine and ready by Week 1.”

“This process is just like an ACL (tear),” he continued. “I’m going to come back stronger than ever.”

Lattimore had overcome a torn left anterior cruciate ligament suffered in 2011 when his standout junior campaign came to a crushing halt late October against Tennessee.

At the time, he again was showing the same skills that helped him make a major splash onto the college landscape as a Gamecocks freshman in 2010.

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Hit by two Volunteer defenders, Lattimore suffered torn ligaments and a dislocated kneecap in his right leg. Lattimore said he went into such shock that, “I really thought I was dreaming.”

The reality is that one of college football’s best players had his pro career placed in jeopardy.

“Before he got hurt, he was one of the top backs in the country,” a general manager who was speaking on condition of anonymity told FOXSports.com.

Lattimore believes he still should be worthy of the same consideration, especially considering his experience playing in South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier’s offense.

“You have to be able to catch the ball, know how to run routes and pass protect,” said Lattimore, who finished his college career with 2,677 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns in a little over two-plus seasons combined.

“The running takes care of itself. You’re a running back. That’s what you do. But pass protection is key. If you can’t do it, you’re not going to play and he’ll let you know that.”

The first good news for a full recovery came when doctors discovered no nerve damage in Lattimore’s right leg. He received another boost when beginning to rehabilitate post-surgery at the Pensacola, Fla.-based center run by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.

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“The guys were so positive about everything that I was going through and my rehab,” Lattimore said. “It just got better day by day by day.

“I came to a point about two weeks ago that, man, I’m going to make this easier than I did with my left knee. This is just like rehabbing an ACL. I am going to come back stronger and have a great career.”

Lattimore’s agents (Sports Trust Advisors) recently sent all NFL teams a video of him running in a pool. He will begin jogging on a treadmill in less than two weeks. When early April comes around, Lattimore plans to conduct a limited workout to show his progress, a la Willis McGahee in January 2003.

McGahee sustained a knee injury about as ugly as Lattimore’s during the University of Miami’s national championship game loss to Ohio State. McGahee wasn’t able to perform all the standard pre-draft drills but he was impressive enough to get chosen by Buffalo with the No. 23 overall pick. Now with Denver, McGahee has rushed for 8,097 yards and 63 touchdowns over the past nine seasons.

The Bills didn’t want to take any extra chances for a setback with McGahee, so he didn’t play as a rookie. As much as Lattimore wants to get back on the field in 2013, the aforementioned general manager didn’t think that would be happening.

“If we took him, I doubt we’d play him,” the GM said. “He’s a guy who needs to sit a year and get past that.

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“I think the big thing about him is that he’s a winner. He does whatever it takes. A lot of (running backs) have the ability he’s got. But he reminds me of guys like Thurman Thomas who refuse to get beat or tackled. I think somebody that takes a chance on him will get a steal.”

That franchise also will be getting a player who enters the draft humbled and appreciative following a stretch that would have broken lesser-willed athletes.

“Everything happens for a reason. This reason was it made me mentally tougher,” Lattimore said. “It put things in perspective where I’ll never take anything — walking, running — for granted again.

“I know what it’s like to not walk and run.”

Tagged: Broncos, Willis McGahee

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