Rodgers-Cromartie says time with Eagles 'made me better as a player'

Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

JERSEY CITY, N.J. - Funny how things work out for some people. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gave the Eagles two of the worst years of his career. We're talking hold-your-nose bad.

He played so poorly that the team didn't even make an attempt to re-sign him after a 4-12 crash-and-burn season in 2012. Just told him good-bye and good-riddance and don't let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.

But 6-2 corners with 4.4 speed don't grow on trees. DRC found a team desperate enough for coverage help to ignore what they saw on tape the last 2 years and offer him a 1-year, $5 million contract. That team turned out to be the Broncos. On Sunday, Rodgers-Cromartie will be their starting right cornerback in Super Bowl XLVIII.

Rodgers-Cromartie certainly wasn't the only reason for the poor play of the Eagles' defense in 2011-12. That was a group effort if there ever was one. But he and the Eagles' other "Dream Team" corner, Nnamdi Asomugha, were the poster boys for that defective unit.


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The Eagles gave up a league-high 60 touchdown passes in the two seasons Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha were there. The defense's eight interceptions in '12 were the third fewest in the league.

"They brought in a lot of different guys and tried to get them to adjust to one another," he said. "And it just didn't work well.

"From my standpoint, it was just a learning experience. I take that and I felt it made me better as a player. It helped me understand the game better. Going through the adversity. Dealing with the ups and downs."

The Eagles acquired Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick from the Cardinals after the 2011 lockout in exchange for quarterback Kevin Kolb.

When they followed that up by also signing Asomugha, the Eagles suddenly seemed to have the best cornerback threesome (Asante Samuel was the third) in the league. NFC East quarterbacks wept.

Trouble was, none of the three could play in the slot. Because he had the fewest Pro Bowl selections, Rodgers-Cromartie was the unlucky guy who got moved inside. He looked as out of place as Honey Boo Boo at a country club soiree.

The Eagles traded away Samuel after the 2011 season, which allowed DRC to move back outside. But it didn't matter.

Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha both played poorly. Nnamdi had an excuse. He was out of gas. Collectively, they gave up 10 touchdown passes and allowed completions on 61.2 percent of the passes thrown to the receiver they were supposed to be covering.

Pro Football Focus rated both DRC and Asomugha among the league's worst corners in '12. After one particularly bad-awful game, Andy Reid called the both of them into his office and read them the riot act for what he felt was not just poor play, but serious lack of effort.

Rodgers-Cromartie admitted that he didn't always play hard last year.

"You've got guys who, no matter what the [team's] record, are going to play hard," he said. "But it's like a trickle-down effect. It starts with a couple of guys [not playing hard] and works its way down. I think that's what happened in Philly. Once it went bad, it went bad.

"It was just bad timing. I don't think about it much anymore. I'm with the Broncos and we're playing well."

Yes they are. Despite injuries to several key defensive players, including the team's best pass-rusher, Von Miller, and its best corner, Chris Harris Jr., the Broncos defense has made Peyton Manning proud.

It hasn't given up more than 17 points in their last four games, including playoff wins over the Chargers and Patriots. Held the Chargers' Philip Rivers to 217 passing yards. Held the Patriots' Tom Brady to 277 and just one touchdown.

"Each week you get a new chance to prove yourself," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "As a defense, we've hung in there and did that."

To his credit, DRC has picked up his game this season. He's played like the guy the Eagles thought they were getting in 2011. Pro Football Focus, which had him ranked as the league's 200th best corner last season, has him at No. 5 this season, one spot ahead of the Seahawks' Richard Sherman.

He clearly is much more comfortable in defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's scheme, which calls for him to play primarily press coverage, than he was in Juan Castillo's.

"Jack Del Rio is the kind of guy who wants you to get up in their faces," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Knowing that this league is a timing league, you're trying to disrupt the timing between the quarterback and his receivers. That's what he tries to instill in us. We press a lot more this year than" the last 2 years with the Eagles.

Asked whether Castillo's inexperience as a defensive coach - he had been Reid's offensive-line coach for 13 years before Big Red got the bright idea to make him his top defensive lieutenant, in a lockout year no less - was a factor in the Eagles' 2011-12 defensive problems, Rodgers-Cromartie said he didn't think so.

"A lot of people say that because Juan was an offensive-line coach before that," he said. "But I don't think that was the problem. I just think the timing wasn't right for [so many new] guys to come to the Eagles and try to gel like a team."

Rodgers-Cromartie is just 27. Won't turn 28 until April. This is just his sixth season in the league. Has a lot of football left in him. In late December, though, he said that if the Broncos won the Super Bowl, "I'm done, I'm retiring."

Most people didn't take him seriously at the time. But on Monday, he insisted it definitely is "somewhat" a possibility. Take it for what it's worth.

"Coming out of college [Tennessee State], I gave myself a 5-year goal," he said. "If I could make it to 5 years, I'd be all right. This is my sixth. It's been a long journey. I'm just weighing my options.

"Everything is cool. If I feel like it's what I want to do, that's what I'm going to do."

Asked what he would do if he retired, Rodgers-Cromartie said he'd probably get a job as a high school guidance counselor or adviser of some sort. "I'd like to mentor kids," he said.


Straight talk on gays

A German reporter asked Rodgers-Cromartie yesterday whether he thought an openly gay player could survive in the NFL. Said Cromartie: "It's going to be hard. I mean, in this league, you gotta shower with guys and be around guys. Some guys are going to be uncomfortable and some guys aren't. It's going to be hard for some guys to accept [a gay player]." Would he be opposed to an openly gay player on his team? "That's on that player," he said. "I have nothing against it. If a player is going to come out, he's going to come out. You can't look at him as different."


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