The thing about training camp is that much of the information that gets passed along is incomplete.
How much can a snippet tell you?
Every time New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas makes a catch in practice, someone posts a video to social media, and people react to what they’re seeing. Sometimes those reactions include a note that Marshon Lattimore was in coverage, which can be jarring because he rarely gave up catches last season.
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So anytime he gets “beat,” it feels notable. But the truth is, more often than not, it doesn't mean anything.
"The media, man,” Lattimore said. “They catch a pass: 'Aww man, he caught it.' They don’t even really know what’s going on.”
Here’s what you need to know about Lattimore: He won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, made the Pro Bowl and held quarterbacks to a 45.3 rating when they targeted him last season. He did all this relying on natural ability and instincts. Take that in and think about it. It's an incredible feat.
He was extremely raw when he came to the Saints after only appearing in 16 college football games, and part of his growth process was stunted while he battled injuries in training camp last year. He didn’t have a high-level understanding of the nature of the coverage, where his help was coming from or of route concepts last season. A lot of times, he was out on the field just doing what felt natural to him.
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Lattimore is now working to refine his talent. That means introducing new techniques that might feel awkward for a while. Lattimore wouldn’t share what some of those things are, referring to them as his “secret sauce.” But once he masters them, they will help him take his game to a new level. Until then, that means letting people see you chasing in a video from time to time, but that’s what training camp is all about.
“You've got to work it, because if you never work it, and you just continue to use old habits — because if it feels good, but it’s going to get you beat sometimes, you’re not doing any good,” secondary coach Aaron Glenn said.
“You might get beat on a couple plays, but you got to focus on what we are trying to work on. What is the goal here? Is the goal here to change it and make sure we’re dominant, doing the things we’re trying to do, or just revert back to your old techniques, and you’re not really sound in the things we’re trying to teach?”
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That isn’t to say that Lattimore isn’t winning his share of battles. One day, he covered receivers so well in a one-on-one drill that he completely prevented two throws, which is an achievement considering the wide receiver and quarterback have the entire field at their disposal. Lattimore also often takes his game to another level during the two-minute portion of practice. He says he relishes the competition during those periods.
But he also admits that over the course of a long camp, there are times when he finds himself battling the monotony. He has to remind himself to bring it every single play. That’s what he’s looking forward to next week’s joint practices with the Los Angeles Chargers, but even more so the season.
“I’m ready,” Lattimore said. “Training camp is so long.”
Even though there are times Lattimore says he has to “push through" in practice, a fire burns behind his laid-back persona. He often grabs Glenn and puts in extra work after practice, and he spent the offseason working alongside fellow Saints defensive back Justin Hardee, who grew up with Lattimore and knows how badly he wants to become one of the best defensive backs in NFL history.
“He’s trying to be a legend. I respect that. That’s my expectations for him anyways,” Hardee said. “He was defensive rookie of the year. I know this year he knows that the standards are high. As he said his interviews earlier, he’s living up to expectations for himself, not anyone else. I know his expectations are higher than anyone’s anyways.”
That’s what makes this an exciting time for the Saints. Players like Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams are just scratching the surface of their talent.
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Glenn is expecting a lot more from Lattimore. He says the cornerback is "not even close to where he needs to be at.”
“I’m not even in my prime yet,” Lattimore said. “I’m going to be much better than I was last year.”
If that happens, no one will need Lattimore and Glenn to decipher what they’re looking at.