One of the few athletes on Wisconsin's roster that hail from the once fertile UW recruiting ground of Texas, Cromartie has shown through four fall and three spring camps that his agility is high, his ability is unquestioned and his potential is off the charts. He's also showed that no matter how fast he starts camp, he is never able to finish the deal with the same consistency that he starts with.
Like many young players, Cromartie had some maturity issues when he arrived on campus, a reason his play suffered. His practice time was inconsistent, his repetitions with the first-team defense always decreased as camp wore on and he was more recognized for his concentration lapses on the field and getting in scuffles with teammates.
"I think everybody goes over a hump in camp and that you are going to have your ups and downs, but I seemed to have my fair share," Cromartie said. "You aren't always going to have your best technique and you are going to be banged up some days, but you have to have the mindset that you are going to come out and compete."
Reputations can be changed over time, and that's exactly what the 6-1, 180-pound junior cornerback has done through two-plus weeks of fall camp. Despite competing with two senior cornerbacks that have started a combined 32 games the last two seasons, Cromartie has been the most active cornerback of the group, creating more turnovers and making more overall plays than either of his competitors.
"I told the defense this and the DBs, he's made more plays than anyone else in training camp," said co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, one of the harder people to please. "I can't say that he's made more mistakes than anybody else. He's been just as consistent as anybody else. Has he given up a couple plays? Yeah, but they all have. Right now, he's a lot more mature and you can see that he's really serious about football, understanding concepts and what are expectations are. He's practicing with energy and everybody else feeds off of that, and I like that out of him."
That energy has come from watching, something Cromartie admits he has done far too much of in his first two seasons. After redshirting in 2008, Cromartie has played in 11 career games, mostly on special teams, and didn't make his season debut last year until week 4. He didn't play in any game where Wisconsin won by less than 18 points and has never made a tackle while playing defense.
But while Cromartie didn't always see the light, his teammates saw the potential. Before leaving for the NFL Combine, Niles Brinkley made it a point to seek out and sit down with Cromartie, urged him heed the advice of taking one practice at a time and not to get flustered when he has a bad play in practice.
"It helped me realize that it's not about one bad play or good play, but it's about being consistent throughout a practice and then throughout one week," Cromartie said. "My whole thing about this fall camp is being more humble and helping the team as much as I can."
That's the main difference Cromartie sees when he watches film of himself in practice this season compared to his practice tapes of past years. According to him, he's bought into what the coaches have told him and has stayed confident in his abilities, a fact that has allowed him to greatly mature in a few months time.
"Coming from a place in high school when you are one of the best on your team, it's hard to accept coaching because you think you know it all," Cromartie said. "In reality, you really don't. It's about accepting coaching not only from your coaches, but from your teammates, because they won't do anything to steer you off."
The other change is satisfaction. After a good practice in years past, Cromartie would be satisfied with his success, resulting in him feeling he had nothing to gain. A summer working with NFL players beat that out of him.
Spending time during the summer in Los Angeles with his cousin, Antonio Cromartie, a cornerback for the New York Jets, Cromartie worked out with his cousin and some NFL buddies, including running sand hills with Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
"I've learned that it's about constantly wanting to get better," Cromartie said. "I come home and watch film, knowing that I screwed at least one thing up. It's about not making the same mistakes time after time. I'm trying to get better every day because that's the most important thing."
For four years, Cromartie has always been pushed from his coaching staff, pushing that finally seems to be tapping into the vast amount of potential in the junior cornerback. The pushing now is coming from Wisconsin's young talented defensive backs that see Cromartie as a talented cornerback that can become a real contributor on defense this season.
There's always a second chance to make a first impression.
"What's helped me out are the other DBs, always encouraging me and always picking me up," Cromartie said. "They want me to start just as bad as I want to start. If I see that I am not the best player out there to be starting, I won't want to be out there. We are all competing to get each other better, and we just want to win."