FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Antonio Cromartie refused to sugarcoat his subpar start.
The New York Jets cornerback expects a lot more from himself, and that’s why he thinks he deserves no more than a mediocre grade for his performance so far.
“A `C,'” Cromartie said Thursday. “I’m blunt honest. I give myself a `C.'”
Cromartie, who has replaced Darrelle Revis as the team’s top cornerback, has routinely taken on teams’ top receivers, and done a fairly good job.
But he has also given up a few big plays, including Emmanuel Sanders’ 55-yard touchdown catch in New York’s loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday. He has also allowed two other touchdowns this season, both against Tennessee three weeks ago.
Cromartie thinks he can play “a whole lot better.”
“It’s been a tough year for me,” he said. “I don’t consider this being me playing at a Pro Bowl-caliber level at all. I definitely want to pick my game up and make sure I’m playing to the best of my ability.”
Cromartie was refreshingly candid and brutally honest talking about his season.
For a guy who has some built-in excuses – a hip ailment early this season; a knee injury last week; getting little help at times in coverage – he refuses to use any of them.
“I’m the guy who’s supposed to be leading this group and supposed to be playing at a high level every single week,” he said. “That’s disappointing to me. The young guys are looking to me to come out and play the way I’m supposed to be playing. That’s something that I haven’t been doing.
“That’s the only part that’s been disappointing to me.”
Still, coach Rex Ryan thinks Cromartie is still having a Pro Bowl-worthy season, especially given the amount of responsibility placed on him with as much man-to-man coverage the Jets’ defense plays.
“Everybody gets beat,” Ryan said. “There’s no question I’m glad he’s on our team, though. I’ll say that. He takes the tough down and never flinches.”
When Revis went down with a season-ending knee injury early last season, Cromartie stepped right in and there was very little drop-off.
It was perhaps the best performance of his career, one that resulted in his second career Pro Bowl appearance and made the Jets feel a bit more comfortable with parting ways with Revis before the draft in April.
“I feel like I have to step my game up a lot more than what I’m playing,” Cromartie said. “For me it starts by critiquing myself and it starts in practice.”
Cromartie doesn’t want his team’s confidence in him to waver one bit.
“My thing is trying to be the best I can be for this football team and playing at the All-Pro level I know I can play at,” he said. “I haven’t been playing at that level. I don’t feel like I have. I’m always going to be hard on myself, make sure I’m doing the things I need to do to and not just for me, but the guys on the back end.
“I can’t say that I’m doing something and I’m not doing those things and expect the younger guys to do it also.”
While many of those “younger” players – rookie Dee Milliner, Kyle Wilson and Darrin Walls, to name a few – look to Cromartie for guidance, he leans on defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman and defensive backs coach Tim McDonald to help him work on improvements.
“I think he’s playing well enough,” Thurman said. “When you’re going against a team’s top receiver most every game, the other guy is going to be good, too. He gets paid just as well. I think he’s performing pretty well, but we can always do better.”
One area, in particular, that Cromartie wants to get better at is being more physical with wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. The knock on him during his first four NFL seasons in San Diego was that he would shy away from hits.
He has done a good job of putting that “soft” label aside during his time in New York, but Cromartie knows he can do more.
“I’m letting receivers get too many free releases even when I’m in press (coverage),” he said. “I think last year, I was doing a better job of making sure I got my hands on the receiver at the line and tried to disrupt the timing of the route.
“That’s something I haven’t been doing in the first six games, and that’s something I’ve got to get back to.”
Cromartie insists that despite a knee injury last week in practice that he initially feared was a torn ligament, he feels the healthiest he has all season.
Not that he needed any proof of that, but Ryan said Cromartie confirmed just how good he’s feeling by making a spectacular one-handed interception in practice Thursday,
“Yeah, I did that,” Cromartie said with a big smile. “But you’ve got to transfer that over to the game.”
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