FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Before, the words were too often the focus. They got the attention, as Antonio Cromartie allowed himself to say outlandish things, to trash talk, to insult, say, an opposing quarterback. He would open his mouth and, suddenly, it was hard to remember what he had accomplished on the field.
And while he could be relied upon to consistently fill a reporter’s notebook, he was inconsistent in the place it mattered more. The skills were there. The size and strength and football acumen. It just wasn’t quite working, at least not as well as it should.
The words haven’t stopped now. The Jets cornerback, in fact, spent nearly three-quarters of an hour with a crowd in front of his locker Wednesday. But it’s his words to his teammates — and righting a defensive backfield that could have been devastated by the loss of Darrelle Revis — that are making more of an impact now.
Instead of a debacle, the Jets have found in Cromartie a cornerback nearly as good as the one they lost.
“He’s always talking,” said veteran safety Yeremiah Bell. “He watches so much film and he knows so much, so we’ll be in the middle of a play [in practice] and he’ll be like, ‘YB, watch this.’
“It just helps everybody else around because it brings our awareness up. Without him doing that, then we’re kind of just playing. But he gives us that extra, just something to look for.”
He counsels them, teaches them, talks to them. It’s something that has become notable in the meeting room, as Cromartie shares the fruits of those hours of film study, the benefits of being able to break down tape in ways that other players don’t always have the ability to do.
“It’s for everybody,” Bell said. “You can tell he loves doing that, that he loves breaking down the film, trying to see teams, how they’re trying to attack and things like that. But I think especially since Reve went down, he’s probably watched a little bit more.”
He has taken more upon himself, to help out his teammates, to help out his team. And while he did all that before Revis went down — felled by a torn ACL in Week 3— it has more gravity as a good player has approached greatness and a secondary that looked ticketed for trouble has not found it.
“He hasn’t become a different person, because he has always been vocal in that room,” said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. “I think what he has realized is, if I’m going to have any credibility in this room, I have to be playing well.
“He has done that. He has played some of his best football since Darrelle went down.”
It starts as soon as Wednesday, after the Jets’ day off. With most of the team just starting to look at the upcoming opponent, Cromartie already has his mind wrapped around it, the plays and tendencies and information leaping off the screen at him.
As Bell said, “I’ve only played with one other guy who breaks down film like Cromartie does, and that was [former Dolphins linebacker] Zach Thomas. He was a big film guy, could break it down easy.
“It’s almost like they have a knack for it. Like, I study and almost all the guys study, but it’s almost like they see it in a different way. It just comes like natural to them.”
Pettine points out that there is a difference between watching film and studying film, a trap that less-experienced players can fall into. The question, always, is what they have learned from it, what they have taken from it that they didn’t know before.
“I see him being more vocal with his teammates, talking, bringing them into the film room,” said head coach Rex Ryan. “He’s a guy that studies the game. He always has since we’ve been here. He really prides himself on knowing the opponent, but he’s sharing that as well with the younger players.”
Said Pettine, “You have guys who are filling up notebooks with information. I think Cro is one of the best at that and I think that’s one of the ways he has had a positive impact on that group.”
He watches. He learns. He picks out things that others often can’t.
“He’s very detail-oriented,” Pettine said. “He’s very perceptive. He sees the little things that an offense does. He just has the ability to process a lot of the information as opposed to just watching a play and thinking in general terms of it.
“He can get very graduate level. I think it has rubbed off on the rest of the group.”
Cromartie points to that detail as the reason for both his success with film and his failures. It’s needed to understand offenses, to be able to counter them and read them and see what the quarterback is seeing. It also gets in the way. Continued...