CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP) — Antonio Cromartie has learned to ignore the jokes about his personal life.
All the snide comments about him fathering eight children with seven women? Say what you want because the New York Jets cornerback isn’t listening.
“I don’t care about the public and what people think,” Cromartie said between practices Friday. “That doesn’t bother me at all. I’m a father and a husband at the same time, so I can’t worry about somebody else’s opinions.”
Recently married to model Terricka Cason, the mother of his newest child, Cromartie is intent on being a family man and doing right by all of his kids.
“That’s the only thing that matters to me,” he said. “My kids know that. That’s all that matters. I couldn’t care less. I know my responsibilities and that is to be a father to my kids, first and foremost, and a husband to my wife. That’s the most important thing to me.”
Once considered one of the most promising young players in the league, Cromartie was traded from San Diego to New York in March. The Jets advanced him $500,000 of the $1.7 million he was due this season to help clear up paternity issues.
“We’ve had conversations about it and as much as someone might say it’s irresponsible, he’s the one who is responsible,” defensive backs coach Dennis Thurman said. “As long as he understands that he’s responsible for taking care of them and their well-being, that’s all any of us need to be concerned with. We’re not charged with that.”
What the Jets are charged with is putting Cromartie in position to succeed on the field. With All-Pro Darrelle Revis holding out in a contract dispute, coach Rex Ryan has Cromartie playing in Revis’ usual spot at left cornerback. That’s a switch for Cromartie, who played mostly on the right side in his four previous seasons with the Chargers.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “I’m feeling more comfortable.”
He had 12 interceptions in 2007 — including two in the playoffs — and was selected for the Pro Bowl — and had two more picks there — in his second season. Cromartie has only five interceptions since, and his work ethic was questioned, as well as his willingness to be physical.
The lowest moment might have come in the playoffs against the Jets last season. Cromartie froze as running back Shonn Greene hit the hole and scampered for a 53-yard touchdown in New York’s 17-14 win in the AFC divisional round.
“This is a new start,” Cromartie said. “I feel like a rookie again being around my teammates and being around this organization. When you’re having fun, it eliminates a lot of things and you can go out and play the way you’re capable of playing.”
He was also fined $2,500 by the Chargers in training camp last summer for tweeting — under the handle crimetime31 — about the “nasty food.”
“The food is great here,” he said, laughing. “Can’t get fined for that here because the food is good.”
Cromartie said he had no fun in San Diego, except for that 2007 season, because “everybody” was taking things too seriously. He’s convinced he’s a better fit in Ryan’s defensive system, and being physical excites him.
“Rex makes you want to play for him, run into a wall for him,” Cromartie said. “That’s something I’ll love to do. I’m going to pick up my game from a physical standpoint and just go out and play football.”
He has been impressive so far in training camp, making a handful of flashy plays through the first few days.
“He wants to hear his name mentioned again when you talk about some of the best corners in the game,” Thurman said.
“With his enormous talent, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t.”
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who played four seasons with Cromartie in San Diego, sees a changed man.
“I definitely see a certain focus in Antonio and a determination,” Tomlinson said. “He’s back to the player he’s always been.”
Thurman said he and Ryan scouted Cromartie when they were assistants with the Baltimore Ravens and the cornerbackwas a star at Florida State.
“He had one of the best pro days we’d ever seen,” Thurman said.
That’s why the Jets jumped when they had an opportunity to add him in the offseason — baggage and all.
“He’s got these great long arms and strong hands, let’s use them,” Ryan said. “Let’s be more physical at the line. His ball skills are God-given. I don’t know how to describe him. I’ve never seen anything like that. Somebody is calling him a spider because he’s so long, he’s tall, and he’s got those long arms. … He’s a rare guy.”
And, Cromartie is happy to make the most of a chance at resurrecting his career.
“I would tell you that I have no problem telling you that this is a better fit,” he said. “It’s a lot more man-to-man, get-in-your-face kind of defense that I love. This is something I’m going to love to do, and I hope it’s for many years to come.
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