SANTA CLARA -- While Frank Gore's season ended with a heartbreaking defeat and a broken right ring finger, his potential successor is on the right track to making his 49ers debut next season, that being Marcus Lattimore.
Lattimore, who sat out his rookie season recovering from a right-knee injury, should be fully cleared to participate once organized team activities begin this spring, coach Jim Harbaugh said.
"This has been an outstanding year for Marcus," Harbaugh said Monday. "Tough at times, but great things will happen for him."
Lattimore, a fourth-round draft pick, had his scintillating South Carolina career cut short by a gruesome knee injury in October 2012 at Tennessee. He practiced with the 49ers for three weeks before going on injured reserve last month.
Asked what Monday he's learned this season, Lattimore said: "Mentally, the biggest thing for me was understanding the offense. Getting with Tom (Rathman), Frank (Gore) and everybody, they showed me how to play the game."
Gore, in his ninth season, played through Sunday's NFC Championship loss at Seattle despite a broken finger, an injury that Harbaugh said he only learned of after the game. Gore made a key, fourth-down reception on their final series. He rushed for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season.
Harbaugh said he has "great hope" that Lattimore and defensive tackle Tank Carradine can produce in 2014 after sitting out their rookie years.
"There's a path there," Harbaugh said. "Nobody owes anybody a career in professional football. Your career is literally your business, but I have great faith and hopes for those men having (great careers)."
Carradine, a second-round pick, said last week he's fully recovered now from an anterior cruciate ligament tear from last season at Florida State.