SANTA CLARA — As the San Francisco 49ers resumed work following their advantageously-timed bye, they’ll carry something that was absent during their week 7 blowout to the Denver Broncos: An improving slate of health.
A slew of starters including CBs Chris Culliver and Jimmie Ward, LB Patrick Willis, DL Glenn Dorsey and G Mike Iupati returned to practice this week in some capacity, signaling a much-needed return of talent to the 49ers after the team failed to put up much of a fight against Denver.
Among those slated to return are new names who figure to be important to the 49ers’ future success.
Rookie center Marcus Martin returned to practice this week for the first time since suffering a dislocated knee cap during the exhibition season.
Martin’s return to action comes at an important time for the 49ers after C Daniel Kilgore suffered a season-ending leg fracture during the blowout loss to Denver.
The third-round pick Martin won’t have the luxury of being eased into action. He’ll have the arduous task of trying to stem Rams rookie standout DT Aaron Donald during his first professional start.
Martin’s injury had kept him from any physical work, though the USC product claims he has been able to get himself ready for Sunday’s game through other means:
“I’ve spent every moment of these first seven games with my coach on the sidelines, identifying fronts, making calls and doing what it is that a center does in the NFL … Most guys fall off mentally and allow themselves to just focus on the physical aspect of [rehabilitation], but I think playing good football is being consistent both physically and mentally.”
The Rams tough defensive front won’t be the only test Martin faces heading into Sunday’s game. The rookie center will also have to establish chemistry with quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the fly.
Martin and Kaepernick have had little time together, though the 49ers quarterback shook off concerns regarding his new center:
“His communication is more with the offensive line than me. Changing protections, things like that, he has to know, For the most part, we’ve had time to work together through training camp and we work with centers every day. So it shouldn’t be a huge transition.”
The 49ers offense may see another Marcus join their ranks soon, RB Marcus Lattimore enjoyed possibly the best birthday present he’ll receive this year — a return to the practice field.
After being marred by tears to ligaments in his right knee during a grisly 2012 collision in college, Lattimore was activated off the NFI list for the first time all season, marking the end of a long journey to recovery:
“I feel ready, but you don’t know until you get out there. I’m blessed to be in this position thanks to the 49ers.”
After receiving practice time at the end of the 2013 season, Lattimore figured to be in the mix of the 49ers RB core heading into training camp.
However, with the selection of RB Carlos Hyde in this year’s draft, San Francisco elected to take a cautious approach to Lattimore’s return, placing him on the NFI to open the season.
The extra time has paid off for Lattimore, who said he feels better both physically and mentally than the last time he took to the turf:
“Confidence, stronger, definitely quicker. Didn’t have any confidence going out there last year. But that’s the main thing, I feel stronger. The knee feels better. It was a huge injury so I knew it would take time, but I just didn’t think it would take as long. But I feel good.”
Veteran RB Frank Gore shows few signs of slowing down as a premier back in the NFL, and rookie Carlos Hyde looks like a strong compliment to Gore’s running style. Lattimore has no clear role, if any, in the 49ers offense if he is activated during his upcoming 21-day window.
But after his strenuous and painful journey, Lattimore seemed to revel in simply being able to play alongside his teammates, rather than fight them for position:
“They’re the best teammates. We’ve got a good team. Great group of guys. It’s uncommon to have this kind of group of guys in here. And big thanks to the coaches and my teammates.”