San Francisco 49ers running back Marcus Lattimore has had a long, long road to get to this point. Recovering from debilitating knee injuries that includes multiple torn ligaments and a dislocation has been one of the hardest things he's ever had to do, but of course he's not going to be satisfied with simply getting a few carries when he actually plays a down in the NFL.
No, Lattimore wants to take the ball out of the hands of one of the most consistently great running backs of this generation in Frank Gore. It's a few days old at this point, but Lattimore told USA Today that getting the ball from Gore is his goal going forward, and I think it's worth talking about.
"I'm trying to take [Gore's] job, but I know that's going to be the hardest thing in the world," Lattimore said last week, prior to wrapping up his first full minicamp in the NFL. He was cleared for practice recently, and seems fully ready to go for training camp in late July and padded practices shortly after that begins. But he still has a long, long way to go before he can usurp Gore.
And let's just put aside for a second that Lattimore is looking to take the football from a guy who has 2,187 carries for 9,967 yards and 60 touchdowns on the ground. Let's put aside the fact that Gore has posted an average of 4.0 yards per carry or higher in all of his nine seasons in the league, and currently holds a career average of 4.6 yards. Let's put aside the 2,772 yards and 10 touchdowns Gore has added in the passing game, and remember that Gore isn't the only obstacle Lattimore needs to overcome this offseason.
There's also a man by the name of Carlos Hyde who probably has something to say on the matter.
Now, I won't pretend to understand exactly what the 49ers are planning to do with the running back position. After drafting Kendall Hunter, I didn't expect them to take LaMichael James, and then after James, I didn't expect Lattimore. After Lattimore, I said "screw it" and predicted they'd take Hyde before the draft even got underway, but I won't call that a claim to fame because I was more joking than anything.
But here's what we know: we've seen Hunter, and we've also seen his carries drop and his role diminish. We've also seen James, who is as good as gone. Both Lattimore and Hyde are younger, hungry and neither have shown us anything just yet, but both look like they're gunning for the starting gig.
I don't want to read any reports about how the 49ers were dissatisfied with Lattimore's recovery, which is why they drafted Hyde or anything like that. That kind of postulating doesn't really hold value at this point, especially given how impressive Lattimore reportedly looked during the minicamp. What I know is that the 49ers have precious few roster spots and a ton of draft picks, so they can afford to spend higher picks to increase competition at a position like running back, and trade or release the guys who don't make it at a later date.
If you ask me who is going to win between Lattimore and Hyde (keep in mind that the "winner" of this battle then gets to try and pull the football away from Gore, a notable "get your own damn ball" advocate), I'll tell you that I have no idea. I'm wary of Lattimore's injury, and think Hyde has what it takes to win the battle, but if Lattimore can approach his pre-injury play, then he's rushing title caliber. I don't know if I can say the same about Hyde.
It should be interesting, regardless!