Cornerback primed to make doubters eat Cro'

There is an early perception that strong safety is the only position that will be up for grabs in training camp. Not true. Drayton Florence is no lock to maintain his starting spot at left cornerback, as Antonio Cromartie is now healthier and wiser than he was last season. Even as a rookie, Cromartie was more consistent than Florence. Now he needs to make some picks.

Cromartie held is own in coverage as a rookie. During an Oct. 29 game against the St. Louis Rams, he went one on one with Torry Holt and held the six-time Pro Bowler to five receptions for 48 yards.

What Cromartie failed to do was author enough game-changing plays. In 2006, he didn't intercept a single pass. Much of that mild level of productivity can be explained by inexperience and lingering knee pain, both of which should be non-issues this year.

"I'm fully healthy," said Cromartie from Mini Camp. "Last year, I had some nicks and bruises on my knee. This year, I've had time to rest and do some rehab on it. I'm looking forward to this year, definitely."

It's not as if he was a gimp last season. Although his big plays were few and far between on defense, he made plenty on special teams. During a Nov. 5 game against the Cleveland Browns, he chased down Dennis Northcutt on what appeared to be a 91-yard punt return touchdown.

Three weeks later, he had a 91-yard kickoff return against the Raiders.

His incredible speed made both of those plays possible. In 2007, he appears to be even faster.

"I'm the fastest guy on the team," Cromartie said. "I'll admit that I'm the fastest guy on the team, No. 31, Antonio Cromartie."

Cromartie changed his jersey to 31 after wearing No. 25 last season. The new digits are the reverse of his college number, 13.

The training camp competition between Cromartie and Drayton Florence will be intense. Cromartie is the better athlete and is superior in man coverage. Florence is the more physical player and has better anticipation, but the fact that he dropped half-a-dozen interceptions last season is disconcerting.

Whether or not Cromartie wins a starting position, his improvement will be a boon for the secondary.


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