Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie walked off the practice field Monday with his right index finger in a brace.
No big deal, the second-year cornerback said, he will practice on Wednesday.
The small fracture occurred eight days earlier in the Arizona Cardinals’ 31-10 home loss to Indianapolis, a game the player whom teammates call “DRC” would like to forget.
The Colts’ Peyton Manning delivered a lesson to the 23-year-old cornerback, who says he has fallen back on the bad habit of relying too much on natural ability and not enough on the technique required for the job at the NFL level.
“I’m still young. I’ve still got a lot to learn. It’s about putting more time in,” Rodgers-Cromartie said, “just understanding that everybody’s as athletic as you.”
He was Arizona’s No. 1 pick, the 16th selection overall in 2008, out of Tennessee State, and the Cardinals brought him along slowly to start his rookie season as he learned that just being exceptionally gifted wasn’t enough.
My midseason, he was the starter at right cornerback.
A week after that, he had two interceptions at Seattle. On Dec. 7 against St. Louis, Rodgers-Cromartie returned an interception 99 yards, tying the NFL record by a rookie. He blocked a field goal against Minnesota on Dec. 14.
Rodgers-Cromartie had an interception in the regular-season finale against Seattle and two more in the playoffs. In Arizona’s 33-13 NFC semifinal victory at Carolina, the youngster held Steve Smith to two catches for 43 yards, one of them for a meaningless touchdown in the game’s final minute.
This year, though, he’s had some tough times as Arizona staggered to a 1-2 start.
“If you look at where he was in training camp, and we all noticed that, he was a very difficult player to complete a ball against, a dominant player, his confidence was high,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Since then, the coach agrees, Rodgers-Cromartie has fallen off in his attention to detail, and it’s cost him.
“I think as a young player when you’re in the starting lineup, you’re the guy, you have a tendency sometimes for those things to happen,” Whisenhunt said. “The one thing that’s important is he’s aware of it and he’s working on some of those things to get back to some of the things he was doing for us late in the year and in training camp.”
Because it was Arizona’s bye week, Rodgers-Cromartie has had a long time to think about how things have gone. He insists he really hasn’t been fooled by quarterbacks.
“I just made an honest mistake,” he said.
When cornerbacks make a mistake, though, everybody knows. It’s something anyone who plays the position has to understand, said Arizona’s other cornerback, four-year NFL veteran Bryant McFadden.
“One thing we do realize is that this is the NFL,” McFadden said. “It’s never easy, especially at our position. They’re going to make big plays on you.”
The key is to bounce back, forget it, and try not let it happen again, he said.
Last season, as the cover corner on a Super Bowl team, Rodgers-Cromartie became a respected defender. Now opposing teams have studied him and devised new strategies to come at him.
“They realize ‘Hey, this guy can play’ and they have to come at you different type of ways,” McFadden said. “With him being so athletically gifted, fast, quick, they’re not going to attack him as they would another corner because you have to do a lot of different stuff to beat him.”
Ever confident, Rodgers-Cromartie said that if critics are on him for giving up too many big plays, well, so be it.
“It’s nothing that you can hide,” he said, “but I don’t mind. I know I’m a good player, a great player. They can think what they want to think.”
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