Underneath Marshon Lattimore's laid-back demeanor, an unrivaled competitive spirit exists.
When he knows he's being tested and is interested in the results, he strives for greatness and appears to be among the best in his profession. The problem is when Lattimore isn't interested in the results, and the test is easy, he spaces out and gets caught going through the motions like a gifted school student who isn't being challenged by the material.
Lattimore knows he's among the best. He proves it, consistently – but only when he wants. He says that's going to change and knows that he needs to lock in every week against all competition, whether Lattimore deems it top-tier or lackluster, to earn the recognition he wants and to get paid how he wants to get paid. A test of his ability to do that could come this week if Tampa Bay wide receiver Mike Evans (hamstring) does not play, and Lattimore ends up locked on someone like Scotty Miller, depending on the game plan.
So, why exactly does Lattimore go into cruise control? What's the difference between good players and bad players?
"You know they're not going to throw it out here (when I'm in coverage on a less talented receiver), and just lose focus," Lattimore said. "That's not a good mentality to have. That's what I've had in the past, but no more. I have to go in and lock in on every play, no matter what or who I'm playing. That was really just my downfall. It wasn't the lack of talent or anything like that."
The difference in approach and the inconsistencies in Lattimore's game is why he is one of a few guys on defense who are tipping-point players, the guys who, if everything goes right, can take the defense to the next level. If all of them do the things they're supposed to do and have some luck with health, the defense should rise to the league's top.