Costa Mesa, Calif. – There’ll be no “easing” into form this year for Marshon Lattimore.
Doing that constituted wasted time last year, raising his game to the level of play that made the New Orleans Saints cornerback the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2017. And Lattimore has no interest in wasting time again, not least because in the position he plays, it’ll show up – often, in the worst ways and not favorably on any angle recorded for posterity.
So there’s been a noticeably discernible level of stinginess for Lattimore during training camp, a level that carried over to the Saints’ joint practices against the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday and Friday, ahead of Sunday’s preseason game at Dignity Health Sports Park.
“Last year, I started off slow and you know what happens at corner,” he said. “I don’t want to start slow. I don’t want to play slow at all. I want to have every season like my rookie season, times 10.
“I’ve just got to come with a better mind-set, and I did do that. I’m glad we got (All-Pro receiver) Mike (Thomas) back, that’s great work right there. Ted (Ginn Jr.), all the receivers are coming along. I’ve just been competing. That’s all I can do, is compete, raise my game and raise everybody else’s game around me.”
The submissions of raised-game Lattimore are impressive.
In a 13-game rookie season, when Lattimore said he mainly got by on pure talent, the No. 11 overall pick intercepted five passes (and returned one for a touchdown), defended 18 passes, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and posted 53 tackles.
And after his slow start in ’18, he found his groove: In the last 11 regular-season games, he registered both of his interceptions, 11 of his 12 passes defensed, forced three of the four fumbles that he jarred loose, posted two of his three fumble recoveries and had 45 of his 59 tackles.
Lattimore knows exactly how much he’s capable of influencing a game, and the goal is to wield it from the beginning of the season until the end.
“Year One, coming in not knowing much,” he said. “Year Two, I wouldn’t say makes or breaks you, but it helps you going into Year Three. I started slow (in Year Three) but I picked it up toward the middle and the end of the season.
“So going into this season, I just want to start how I played at the end of (last) season, raise my game every week, becoming better mentally and physically as a player. So Year Three, for anybody period, but especially for corner, definitely is big. I’m ready for it.”
He’s looked the part, whether it’s closing on a ball in flight, or positioning himself to ride a receiver out of bounds (head turned toward the pass, to make a play on the ball if it’s in bounds), or coming up in run support.
Lattimore had added to his game, because he had to.
“They study you, they know your tendencies and stuff,” he said. “So you’ve got to be physically better and mentally better, just knowing what’s coming. Things like that, we’ve been working on.
“I’ve got a long way to go, like A.G. (secondary coach Aaron Glenn) said. But I’ve picked up on more and more. Out here, you can tell just the difference between how I react to certain things. It’s coming naturally now. I’m still trying to raise my game up to the next level.
“You’ve just got to have more things in your repertoire. You just can’t jam all the time. You’ve got to mix your game up so they can’t really just get your tendencies down. Of course, you’ve got certain things you go to. But you’ve got to able to mix it up and be comfortable mixing it up.”
Lattimore is comfortable. And unlike last year, he already is in regular-season form.