Although ESPN's Adam Schefter was among those who reported that Lattimore would likely miss the entire 2013 season to give his surgically repaired knee more time to recover, the official transaction made by the Niners on Friday was one of hope, not defeat.
As reported by NFL.com's Kevin Patra, Lattimore will begin the year on San Francisco's non-football injury (NFI) list. He will be eligible to return to the active roster in Week 7, when the Niners will travel to Tennessee for a showdown with the Titans.
It remains unlikely that Lattimore will see the field this year.
That being said, it's certainly interesting that the Niners opted to leave Lattimore the opportunity to make his NFL debut this year if the doctors in charge of his progress give the green light.
Lattimore, who the 49ers used a fourth-round pick on in the 2013 NFL draft, doesn't need to rush back to the San Francisco backfield. Between Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James and even quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Jim Harbaugh has plenty of top-notch options at running back.
When hearing the news that he had been placed on the NFI list, Lattimore reportedly said "that's cool with me," according to Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News.
"Things have been going good. Patience, that’s all it is now," Lattimore said.
The long-term project clearly understands that his NFL future won't be decided by his performance as a rookie. San Francisco used a fourth-round draft choice on Lattimore with the understanding that the road to 100 percent was anything but a sure thing, yet they chose to take the plunge anyway.
Still, there's an underlying sense of hope surrounding the former All-SEC performer that isn't consistent with a player resigned to redshirting his first NFL season.
Back in July, Lattimore told Los Angeles Times reporter Sam Farmer that he could have participated in training camp, "without question." At the time, he told Farmer that a best-case scenario for his NFL debut would be Week 10.
Should Lattimore return in 2013?
San Francisco's choice to put Lattimore on the NFI list certainly gives him an opportunity to accomplish that goal.
Lattimore has shown unwavering courage and confidence since his breakout year with the Gamecocks in 2010. Many athletes would quit after one knee injury—Lattimore is breaking the mold just under one year after his second-such setback.
It will be a heartwarming moment full of emotion, resiliency and triumph when Lattimore makes his NFL debut with the 49ers.
All signs point to that debut happening at some point in 2014, but San Francisco—and Lattimore himself—clearly isn't ready to close the door on it happening this year.
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