Since South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a devastating right knee injury Oct. 27 against Tennessee, there have been several important dates in his recovery, and mission of becoming a productive NFL player.
One was last month in Indianapolis, where he was examined by NFL team doctors at the league’s combine. Another will come next Friday and Saturday, when he has a follow-up exam by those doctors in Indianapolis.
And while he couldn’t do any of the on-field drills at USC’s pro day Wednesday, that also was an important date for him, as representatives from 31 NFL teams – everyone except the Redskins – showed up and watched him do ladder drills and step-up exercises onto boxes.
Does this alone mean he is going to be a successful pro? No. But is it a big point of progress in his rehab from a multi-ligament injury? Absolutely.
There is more work ahead, for sure, but Lattimore did all he could Wednesday to show that he is on his way back – on the five-month anniversary of his injury, no less. There is exactly one month now until the final day of the NFL draft. Will Lattimore be selected then, when rounds four through seven are picked? Or will he go on the second day, in the second or third round?
If he was healthy, he might have been a first-round pick, but that’s not going to happen now, and obviously, he will make less money on his initial pro contract because of it. But Lattimore wasn’t dwelling Wednesday on opportunities lost. Rather, he talked with hope about his future.
“I’m doing great,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go.”
Because scouts got a chance to see him move around and show stability in his knee Wednesday, he said, “I think everything is going to be all right. Once I get on a team and prove myself, prove that I’m a complete back, I’ll be full health, so I’ll be good to go.”
He knows a lot of work lies ahead between now and then, but he still thinks he can play early next season.
“I kind of have to hold back right now at this stage (of rehab),” he said. “Everything is still pretty much healing. I’ve just got to do what I’ve been doing, just keep strengthening. That’s the main thing right now until I get the OK to do a lot of different things. I’m pretty sure there are teams that have questions about (the knee), but I really haven’t come across a team that really said it to me (during a meeting).
“I know my situation. I talked to Willis (McGahee). He went through the same thing (before being draft in the first round in 2003). He was out here doing kind of the same things I was doing (at pro day). I know my situation. I know it’s going to take some time. (NFL teams) know my situation, so it’s all good.”
Wednesday was his first time back on Williams-Brice Stadium’s field since the injury, but he said memories of it didn’t creep into his mind “because I’m out here with my teammates. I’m out here with my family. They really keep my mind off that.”
As for the draft, he said, “I’m not even going to look at the draft (on television). It’s whatever happens happens. I’ll probably go back home and just really hang out with my family. I’m not going to watch anything. I’m just going to wait on my phone to ring. I just really don’t want to see it.”
Unlike last year, when cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive end Melvin Ingram were picked in the first round and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery went in the second, USC has no players who are guaranteed to go in the first two rounds.
The main draft-eligible guys besides Lattimore are free safety D.J. Swearinger, outside linebacker DeVonte Holloman, wide receiver Ace Sanders and defensive end Devin Taylor.
Swearinger said he will meet with the Falcons, Jaguars, Jets and Browns. He wanted to run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds at pro day after running 4.67 at the combine. His pro day time was 4.63.
“You don’t run a 40 on the football field (during a game),” he said after pro day, and before he knew his time. “You play football.”
Swearinger, though, was happy to see Lattimore back.
“Marcus told me before we all left to go training that he would be running at pro day,” Swearinger said.
Holloman said Lattimore “always surprises me.” Holloman also attended the combine – along with six other USC players, including Lattimore – and the thing that impressed him most about the event was how busy the players stayed, with countless meetings with teams.
“You don’t really get much sleep,” Holloman said. “It’s just amazing that even the coaches have energy.”
Holloman estimated he got 12 hours of sleep total in the three days he spent at the combine.
Holloman ran the 40 in 4.76 seconds at the combine and 4.79 at pro day. A 40-yard dash time isn’t incredibly important for a linebacker. Taylor’s 40 time, for what it’s worth, went from 4.72 at the combine to 4.88 at pro day.
Sanders, who also returns punts, ran a 4.58 at the combine and didn’t improve on that much at pro day, when he ran 4.56. He broad jumped 114 inches, after getting 117 at the combine. But Sanders is better at changing direction than straight-line speed, and his times in the three-cone drill and 60-yard shuttle at the combine showed that – 6.81 (eighth among receivers) and 11.29 (fourth among receivers).
Still, a better 40 time at pro day would have helped him, as it probably would have helped Swearinger. Sanders surprised some USC observers by turning pro early. NFLDraftScout.com projects him as a fifth to sixth round pick and rates him No. 23 among receivers.