FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For a moment last Monday, Antonio Cromartie, now the de facto top corner for the Jets after Darrelle Revis’ season-ending injury, was vying for the top slot in the wide receiver rotation as well.
As Cromartie flew down the field he caught a pass from Mark Sanchez and nearly -- but not quite -- landed with both feet in bounds. Still, he looked back at the corner guarding him, Houston’s Johnathan Joseph, and pointed out how much separation he just got.
“I told him, ‘I play corner too and I just ran right by you,’” Cromartie said with a laugh.
Clearly, Cromartie has the mouth to play wide receiver, but he’s much more necessary at his natural spot.
With a confidence so solid that he asserted he was the top corner in the league once Revis went down, Cromartie is one of the few players in the NFL who could be used on every play. The Jets have certainly done their best to get every mile they can out of the former Charger and Cromartie has played wide receiver, returned kickoffs and, of course cornerback.
“If it was winter he’d be playing in the NBA,” said special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff.
With a lean 6-2 frame, and impressive reaction time, you could make the mistake of thinking Cromartie was all athleticism and instinct, but defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said that would be an error. Cromartie will sit in meetings and call other players out for a lack of knowledge about opponents or schemes. He has studied offensive plays an additional 30 to 40 minutes every day since knowing he could be used there.
“I think it’s a well-kept secret; he prepares, I think, better than maybe any player I’ve been around,” Mike Pettine said. “He studies the tape inside, outside, backwards. He’ll embarrass the other defensive backs. They know that they better have looked at it pretty in depth or else he’s going to throw stuff at them that they’ll have no idea about.”
Cromartie has faced additional scrutiny after the loss of an irreplaceable Revis. Last week Cromartie was matched up on Andre Johnson, and limited him to one catch. This week he gets the Colts’ top receiver, Reggie Wayne.
“I think if (Wayne) just sat out there where he used to be, I think it’d be a little easier,” Ryan said. “We’d be able to identify where he is but they’re moving him around a little bit. It’s kind of hard to get your hands on him. They put him in the slot, they put him in a lot of bunches, they put him in what we call snugs, which is a two-man bunch. They don’t want you to get your hands on him, and that’s something that obviously, we’re going to try to do. They’re not just going to let (Cromartie) go out there and ‘D him up’ from the line of scrimmage. They’re going to move him. But, that should be a really good matchup.”
Isaiah Trufant said Cromartie was like a big brother to the defensive backs, and has taken on a leadership role seriously. With a sly sense of humor, Cromartie fits in perfectly on a defense with a lot of big personalities.
“He’s able to keep people smiling laughing but at the same time he’s one of those guys who definitely knows when it’s time to get serious,” linebacker Aaron Maybin said.
If he hasn’t backed it up on the field, there wouldn’t be much to celebrate. Cromartie would be just another stereotypical Jet who talked a bigger game than he could play.
“I think he realized once Darrelle went down, he made the statement, “Hey, I’m the best corner in the league, with him being down,’” Pettine said. “I think he realized it’s put up or shut up time. He’s responded and played really well and, obviously, we’re thrilled with that. It’s a tribute to him and, I think, how he’s gotten himself right mentally.”
Later against the Texans Cromartie went out on offense again, but this time he was the decoy. He drew double coverage, a safety and a corner, and that’s when running back Shonn Greene broke through for a 12-yard run. Even so, that’s not his main focus.
“My number one position right now is being the best corner in the NFL,” Cromartie said.
Which the Jets will just have to live with.