Is Cromartie Irreplaceable?

Bad news and bad luck became common place this off season, and it seems like the latest bit of misfortune, Antonio Cromartie's torn ACL has knocked the Seminoles for a loop and possibly down for the count.

In most cases it would be difficult to say that an entire team's fate could rest on the abilities of a single player, but when that player is a shut-down corner with a knack for big plays, losing that kind of reliability and unparalleled talent is both demoralizing and disastrous.

Good-bye cornerback.

Adios cornerstone.

So long season?

It's just as unfortunate for Cromartie as it is for the team. He had big plans for what was marked as his breakout year. Now he'll have to set that aside and focus on a crucial rehabilitation.

"The thing that is most frustrating is that I really worked hard this off season because I want to be one of the best corners in the country," Cromartie said. "I felt like I was in the best condition I've ever been in."

On a team full of question marks there's now one more.

Cromartie left behind a secondary that is thin in game time experience. Seniors Gerard Ross and Kyler Hall have gone through several years of coaching, but only carry seven starts between them. Pat Watkins is the lone man with any substantial playing time, and back-ups at all four positions are young and untested.

The defensive line, which is another area of concern, has already lost starter Clifton Dickson to academic ineligibility. If pass protection begins to slip, can the pass rush make offenses pay?

The two key parts to shutting down opponents air attack aren't looking very promising.

Weigh the loss against any other position and the gravity of this situation becomes crystal clear. Is it possible to remove any other player and have his vacancy be as crippling to the unit? Pull a star linebacker and the depth would cover the void. The same goes for running back.

Wyatt Sexton's previous back-ups seem to be adjusting to their new role. And throughout the spring practices, reserve wide receivers showed flashes of brilliance.

But a Cromartie-less secondary leaves Florida State as susceptible to big hits as a one-armed boxer. He's irreplaceable and having him available was crucial to the success of the 2005 campaign. Cromartie nearly beat Miami single-handed last season, and, while splitting time with LeRoy Smith, tallied two defensive touchdowns and finished second in the ACC with four interceptions.

"It's disappointing for him and it's disappointing for our team," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "He was right there on the verge of becoming a dominating player. He's a preseason All-American, so obviously it's a big loss for us."

If the defense can't find a way to fill the hole quickly and adequately, two young quarterbacks may find themselves without the help they will need on the other side of the ball to make it through a difficult opening stretch.

"What it does now is open up an opportunity for one of the other cornerbacks to become a starter," Andrews said. "One of those guys is going to have to find a way to become a dependable starter."

They'll find a new starter, just not another Cromartie.

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