July 31, 2013
Becoming a leader
Fresh off an All-Pro campaign, Cromartie embraces a new role
In 2010, Antonio Cromartie left the San Diego Chargers and joined the New York Jets.
The veteran teamed with All-Pro Darrelle Revis to form, arguably, the best shutdown cornerback duo in the NFL. When Revis went down with a season-ending injury at Miami in game three last season, Cromartie became the man who needed to step up even more — and he responded.
The rangy 6-foot-2, 210-pounder eventually earned All-Pro honors for the second time in his career.
In his 112-game NFL career, he has started every contest. Over that time Cromartie has accumulated 257 solo tackles, 30 assisted tackles, 25 interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), 283 passes deflected, three fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
Entering his eighth season, the former Florida State Seminole spent the off-season working out with many of his secondary partners and even hosting many of the younger defensive backs at Camp Cro in Southern California. In doing so, Cromartie has grown into a leader and a more mature individual.
With Revis moving on to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a free agent, the team that will face the Jets in a season-opening showdown, Cromartie will be looked upon as a team leader — especially during the team’s preseason stay at SUNY Cortland. The Jets camp took a mandatory break on Tuesday, with practice resuming at 10 this morning.
Does Cromartie feel that he has grown into the role as team leader?
“Not really,” Cromartie replied. “I’ve always had it. I just never needed to use it. I was just chillin’. Now, me being the veteran of the group, I want to make sure everybody is in the loop and where they need to be.”
“Antonio has earned it because of the pelts,” New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. “That’s how you gain the most respect, by what you do on the field. He’s made a couple of Pro Bowl seasons. In fact, he’s coming off of one.
“He has the athleticism, he’s always had that,” the coach continued. “The thing that impresses me is here is a guy who is trying to get better. Does he have freakish athletic ability? Yes, he’s always had that, but he is trying to get better at his craft. I think that’s what impresses his teammates, I know it impresses me more than anything. Sometimes you just look to sustain because you have reached a certain level. Cro is doing just the opposite, he wants to get better. That is what’s impressive about him.”
Being an All-Pro at San Diego, it was an honor for Cromartie to earn that second Pro Bowl appearance. He doesn’t look at it as an individual reward, something that he did on his own.
“One person doesn’t make a defense. It takes 11 guys collectively,” he noted. “You want to be out doing the things you do and taking care of your business. You want to come in and play at a high level every week because that’s what your teammates expect and that’s what you expect from your teammates. It wasn’t just me, it was 10 other guys that helped get us where we wanted to be defensively.”
With so much turnover on the defensive side of the ball, there are a lot of battles for starting sports, including the secondary, under the scrutiny of some new defensive coaches. So far, Cromartie likes what he sees in his teammates.
“We did lose a lot of guys, but we have a lot of guys back with experience,” Cromartie said. “We have a lot of guys that know the Rex Ryan defense. We just have to look at what guys are here and what guys want to make the plays.”
Concerning those coaches, Dennis Thurman had been the defensive back coach and is now defensive coordinator, with Tim McDonald the new defensive backs coach.
“It’s been great,” Cromartie said of McDonald’s arrival. “Tim knows his stuff. He is new to the Rex Ryan defense, but he is a former player with 14 years of experience. That’s really something you can’t ignore. He knows the game and he knows what he expects from you. He wants us to continue to learn and he wants us to play our best.”
The newest member of the Jets secondary is first round draft choice Dee Milliner, who arrived in Cortland on Monday after agreeing to his contract the previous evening. Ryan is expecting Cromartie to help the rookie get up to speed.
“I’m not sure they’ve had much time together yet,” Ryan said. “But certainly he knows how to study. Cro does a tremendous job studying and so I hope that’s what Dee will take from him. But Dee’s got to get out there. I will say this with Cro, he certainly is a guy who’s willing to teach. That’s a great thing.”
So it’s Cromartie’s turn to stand up and take charge, to take whatever steps he needs to help his team be successful.
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