With only two games under his belt this season, Cromartie has already made 10 tackles, including matching his career total of seven against Oregon State. With Smith now out for the season as a result of the injury, opportunity is knocking on the door for Cromartie when No.7 Wisconsin matches up with Northern Illinois Saturday at Chicago's Soldier Field.
It's finally a good knock, unlike the one Hurricane Katrina brought to Cromartie's New Orleans door in April 2005.
"It wasn't that big of a deal back then," said Cromartie, who lived in the 15th ward, West Bank Algiers, in New Orleans. "We have hurricanes every year, so I mean Hurricane Katrina - I thought we would be back in a couple of days. You never really get the ‘Wow, I'm not going back ‘til weeks go past.' I thought it would be a three day vacation from school, I was in 10th grade at the time, so a day goes by, a week goes by, two weeks go by, and then it becomes a reality."
A reality that influenced Cromartie's life and impacted his game, Hurricane Katrina, somehow, had a silver lining. He focused on what he had to do during that hard time and knew that the best decision was to not give up- just keep going- which has impacted the way he sees tough times during his football career.
"It has definitely affected me as a player," said Cromartie, who relocated to Dallas with his father. "I was always taught to not give up. Going through something like that, you know, you try not to give up. I had my ups and downs, like in my football career here, so I keep going at it when times get tough. The hurricane taught me to just always be thankful for what you have and helped me realize the blessing I am in now, and just never give up."
Preparation for what Hurricane Katrina had in store was near impossible, but preparation for the upcoming season was a welcomed grind. Spending time in Los Angeles to workout with his cousin, current NY Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, Marcus spent time running sand hills and lifting weights with NFL players, including Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.
"I spent some time with my cousin to work on my technique," said Cromartie. "He just coached me up, telling me to keep getting better, to keep on coming because he knows I have a big season this year, and it really helped out."
Practicing during the offseason and this fall has prepared Cromartie for Saturday's game at Soldier Field- where he will have the first start of his career at cornerback. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash says that Cromartie is ready for the opportunity.
"'Cro' had a great training camp for us and pushed both Devin and Antonio (Fenelus) during camp," Ash said. "There was one time a possibly he could be a starting corner. I wouldn't anticipate there would be anything different with him. He's prepared himself well for this opportunity."
Cromartie isn't perfect, pointing out that his alignments, footwork and technique all need to be improved going forward. One thing that doesn't need fixing is Cromartie's toughness. In the opener, Cromartie got stung by a ball carrier, only to shake it off and deliver some big blows of his own.
"Cromartie throws his body around out there," Ash said. "We ran a stunt with him coming on a blitz, made contact with the running back and kind of rung his bell a little bit. He's got to get used to that, but he shook it off and got back out there and played."
Years later, New Orleans continues to rebuild. Cromartie's family has returned and he visits home twice a year. Once describing the city as a ghost town after the hurricane, Cromartie describes the city now stronger than ever and more unified.
Cromartie's approach this week is to help unify the secondary by using the same blueprint he followed after Katrina – just focus on what he needs to do one day at a time.
"Everybody asks me are you gonna be ready for Saturday," Cromartie said. "Ready for Saturday? I said, ‘Coach, let me get ready for Tuesday's practice. Let me get ready for Wednesday's practice, let me do the whole process in getting ready for Saturday.' "