FLORHAM PARK: The sirens have been blaring, red flags waving and angry mob forming just outside the Atlantic Health Training Facility for four weeks now.
Each time Antonio Cromartie gets beat at Jets camp, another voice is heard yelling the 31-year-old corner is washed up, done and not worth the $8 million it cost to return him to the green-and-white.
But as each pessimistic downer nears ever closer to the edge of the Brooklyn Bridge, Cromartie just keeps on smiling. Why?
“Man, it’s practice,” Cromartie said. “I’m looking forward to when the lights turn and you go play football.”
While for some it seems Cromartie is getting beat on a near Kyle Wilson-level, the four-time Pro Bowler let reporters in on a little secret after the team’s Wednesday practice: During team drills, he’s not doing the things he normally does in a game.
Cromartie uses each rep to work on the things he can’t do in an effort to add to his repertoire. Maybe it’s a way to attack a certain play or bait a receiver into doing something different. It could also be a technique. Whatever ‘it’ is, for most of practice, it’s a series of trial and errors.
“He works on different things every day,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “Until you know what coverage he is in, you’ve got to see what he’s working on so you can’t really look at it and say he got beat here or he got beat there.”
If Cromartie gets beat on a curl by receiver Brandon Marshall, he doesn’t get bothered. If it’s Eric Decker who squeaks by on a slant, he doesn’t mind. It could be T.J. Graham that gets deep, or Walter Powell on a comeback. None of it bothers Cromartie.
Because at the end of the day, he’s using practice to, well, practice.
“You try to work on certain things,” Cromartie said. “You try to work on your weaknesses and get better. I’m not worried about anything that’s going on now. If I get beat working on something else, I just get beat I’m not worried about it. I know what I have to do to play top ball.”
For the majority of his NFL career, Cromartie has established himself into one of the game’s better cornerbacks. In his 10 seasons, the former first-round pick has intercepted 31 passes-- Good for fifth-most among active NFL players. He brings rare athletic ability to the position, and while he’s not the player he once was, he’s still a notch above the majority of those at his position.
In 2014, Cromartie appeared in all 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals. He recorded 48 tackles, recovered a fumble, intercepted three passes and deflected 10. He earned Pro Bowl honors for the third consecutive season.
After the Jets secondary was torched a season ago by opposing quarterbacks, the team made it a priority to fix the bruised at battered bunch, and Cromartie was a key piece in doing so. In the opening minutes of free agency, New York agreed to terms with former Cleveland Browns corner Buster Skrine. By the end of that night, the team had signed Darrelle Revis. By the end of the week, Cromartie and safety Marcus Gilchrist were added to the mix.
Together, on paper, the unit has the talent to rival the Seattle Seahawks as one of the game’s best secondaries. But Cromartie says if New York wants to be one of the best, they’ll have to put the work in, which begins with the communication. And that, at least to this point, is off to a strong start.
“Our communication is going very well,” Cromartie said. “I just think we’re at the point where everything is speeding up, and we’re getting good communication all around and everyone on the same page.“
Friday night, Cromartie and Co. will face the Matt Ryan and Julio Jones led Atlanta Falcons in the Jets second preseason game. In New York’s opener, much was left to be desired as Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford marched down the field effortlessly against the Jets defense
On the starters' only series, Detroit went 71 yards in five plays, capped by a 35-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to receiver Golden Tate.
Against Atlanta, Cromartie said the Jets goal is simple:
“We need to play better,” Cromartie said. “As a team we need to play better. That’s what we’re looking to do, get better every single week, and move on.”
And the Jets, like Cromartie, use practice to do so.
This article will also appear in Friday’s edition of The Journal Inquirer