COLUMBIA, S.C. — Marcus Lattimore stood silently in front of the mesh, ladder-style workout mat in South Carolina’s weight room, ready to show the NFL how far he’s come since his horrific knee injury five months ago.
“I was a little nervous,” the ex-Gamecocks running back said. “But excited, too, that I could do this.”
Lattimore did a series of exercises designed to demonstrate the progress of his surgically repaired knee. He dislocated the knee and tore several ligaments against Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium last October.
He did step-ups, box jumps, deep-knee bends, forward and backward lunges and one-legged balancing drills while holding weights for a group that included Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals, the only head coach at the workouts.
Lattimore received a loud cheer from former teammates and coaches, and evaluators from the 31 NFL teams attending Wednesday’s workouts.
Later on, Lattimore caught passes with running backs and receivers — although he walked out to a designated spot to catch the simple throws from former South Carolina passers Syvelle Newton and Seth Strickland.
He hopes he answered enough questions to gain a spot in next month’s NFL draft.
“They’ve seen me move a little bit. They’ve seen me use my feet, use my knee,” he said. “My knee’s fine. I think everything’s going to be all right.”
It didn’t look that way five months ago. Lattimore had returned from a left-knee injury during his sophomore season and was among the Southeastern Conference’s top rushers heading into the game with the Vols.
But Lattimore’s season ended in the second quarter when he was tackled at the end of a run. His right leg flopped over like a rag doll’s limb and trainers had to keep pushing Lattimore’s head down and chest back down to keep him from seeing the damage.
Players from Tennessee joined South Carolina teammates in wishing Lattimore well before he was driven off the field in shock. He was considered a first-round NFL draft pick prior to the injury. Lattimore’s given up worrying about where or if he’ll go in the draft.
“I’m not even going to watch,” he said. “I’m just going to wait for my phone call” from an NFL team.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier thought Lattimore’s workout was remarkable given how badly damaged the knee was. In Spurrier’s eyes, it put Lattimore back in the running to hear his name called early by an NFL team.
“You’d think he’s 100 percent,” Spurrier said. “He was very impressive.”
Lattimore was happy with his limited workout — although he pushed his doctors and agent to do more. “It just wasn’t smart,” Lattimore said.
Lattimore was among 18 former Gamecocks working out for NFL teams. Early entry receiver Ace Sanders, the Outback Bowl MVP who gave up his senior season, thought he improved on his NFL combine 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds and wowed scouts by field a punt while holding three footballs.
“I’d never done that before,” Sanders said.
Sanders said Lattimore’s path back to working out at all was the biggest feat of the day.
“Oh, my gosh, you thought it was over,” Sanders said of his ex-teammate. “What he’s done shows the kind of person he is.”
Lattimore was eager to lead his teammates even if he couldn’t run full-speed. He was constantly clapping and encouraging, shouting “Good job, D.L.” after receiver D.L. Moore ran a deep pattern during drills.
Lattimore knows he’s got more work to do. He won’t hold a personal pro day as he planned back in January instead letting his meetings with teams at the NFL combine and here, along with progress reports from his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, make his case.
He has met with Philadelphia and has individual interviews set up with New England and St. Louis. He has a sponsorship agreement with EAS Nutrition that both sides hope can become a long-term arrangement.
Lattimore is confident he can play in the NFL this year. He’ll have his knee examined by NFL personnel in Indianapolis on April 5-6, then wait for the draft.
“Once I get on a team, I’ll prove myself and prove that I’m a complete back,” Lattimore said. “I’ll be in full health so I’ll be good to go.”