SANTA CLARA — Running back Marcus Lattimore is ready to return to the practice field at last, ready to forget the devastating knee injuries, surgeries and countless hours of rehab.
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that Lattimore would be on the field beginning Wednesday, starting the team’s 21-day window to determine whether to activate him to the 53-man roster or place him on season-ending injured reserve.
Lattimore can’t fathom not playing and making his debut with the 49ers after all this time.
The Niners’ 2013 fourth-round draft pick was eligible to return after Week 6. He spent his rookie season last year on injured reserve after tearing three major ligaments in his left knee in October 2012 at South Carolina. Harbaugh had said he was likely to begin practicing after the team’s bye this past weekend and have his health evaluated during this coming stretch before the Nov. 18 deadline for a decision on his status.
“A big moment,” Lattimore said Monday. “Just try to put together a couple consistent practices, just so they know I’m good and they trust me to go out there and play. It’s been a long time, but I’m excited about it. It’s going to be fun. It’s a blessing, that’s what it is.”
Lattimore is one of a handful of San Francisco reinforcements the 49ers could have back on the field during the season’s second half. Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey returned to practice Monday from a torn left biceps. The Niners (4-3) got back to work after their off week to begin preparing for Sunday’s home game against NFC West rival St. Louis.
Linebacker Aldon Smith has served seven games of his nine-game suspension for violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse and personal-conduct policies.
“The back end of the season,” Lattimore said. “Aldon, Glenn Dorsey, a bunch of weapons coming out. We plan on making a big run.”
While there is speculation Smith could have his penalty reduced for good behavior, Harbaugh hasn’t heard anything. Harbaugh is eager for players to return from their various injuries. NaVorro Bowman’s timeline is still unclear.
“He’s running. He’s doing some lateral cutting. He’s progressing,” Harbaugh said.
The linebacker grabbed a mini basketball, backed up and banked in a 25-footer on the locker room hoop. Left-handed no less. While the injured All-Pro is still working back from left knee surgery, he is making significant progress in his recovery.
“I’m getting there,” Bowman said with a grin.
“I heard you banked one in,” Harbaugh said to the defensive star when the coach walked through the locker room a few minutes later.
Lattimore realizes how eager he will be and that adrenalin will kick in once his cleats hit the grass, but he plans to balance that energy with a bit of caution.
“I’ve got to, I’ve got to control it, but I’ve also got to go out there and be myself,” he said. “Run like I know how to run and just go out there and play football. The game hasn’t changed. At the same time, I’ve got to pace myself and relax.”
The 29-year-old Dorsey, who received a two-year contract extension through the 2016 season on Aug. 19, was injured Aug. 1 but wasn’t ruled out for the season. He was expected to miss significant time after arriving for training camp as the projected starting nose tackle, though everyone remained optimistic he might return in 2014.
Dorsey is in his seventh NFL season out of LSU. In 16 games with 13 starts last season in his first year with the Niners, Dorsey had 41 tackles and two sacks.
He left Levi’s Stadium on Monday smiling and acknowledged the first practice back went well.
“Oh yeah,” he said.
NOTES: Rookie C Marcus Martin, replacing injured Daniel Kilgore, had an “impressive” practice, according to Harbaugh. … CB Chris Cook underwent surgery Friday on his torn hamstring that ended his season … San Francisco’s college graduates posed after practice in their schools’ T-shirts — Harbaugh in a gray Michigan shirt beneath his standard black 49ers fleece. The idea came from Baltimore, Harbaugh said. The Ravens are coached by his big brother, John. … Jim Harbaugh took a rare day off Saturday and held a belated sixth birthday celebration for daughter Addison.