From current coaches to former players, it's seems everybody has had their mouth in Cromartie's ear to tell him now is the time to step up his game. Cromartie has heard it again this spring, only this time he plans on doing something with it.
Cromartie played in just five games his redshirt sophomore season and has seen the field in just 11 games tin two years, mostly contributing on special teams. Now with cornerback Niles Brinkley gone and no incumbent starter opposite senior Antonio Fenelus, this spring is as good as any for Cromartie to take a step forward.
Cromartie talked with Badger Nation after Thursday's practice.
Badger Nation: How did you treat these last couple weeks after the Rose Bowl, especially knowing Niles was going to be leaving and a spot was going to be opening up?
Cromartie: The first thing I wanted to change is my approach and preparation before I lift. That means my eating habits. A lot of times before practice, I would eat McDonalds, just something to fill me up, and I feel like that was making me sluggish on the field. The first thing I did was cut out fast food before practice, before I lift, before anything, and I told myself one day at a time. Anybody can say that are going to stop eating fast food, stop for a day and then go back to it the next day when they are really hungry. For me, it's one day at a time and I stick with my preparation. I think that's helped me because I was determined to do something and I did it. That's the first step of playing this year, using that kind of determination.
Badger Nation: How many people do you think have challenged you in the past year to take the next step?
Cromartie: Every coach that has come here. Coach Cooks, Coach Doeren, Coach Ash, Coach Jackson and Coach Bielema of course. They've challenged me just to get in going. I keep on coming. A lot of people think I am going to give up but if I keep working hard, I know it's going to pay off.
Badger Nation: Why do you think you haven't broken through yet or had your moment to get out there and see a lot of plays? What do you attribute that to?
Cromartie: A lot of it is focus. Coach Bielema just said it. We have a 2 hour, 45 minute practice, and it's hard to focus for all that time. It's not just practice, it's a whole season of focus. That's what you've got to do to play in the Big Ten. You've got to focus day in and day out and separate play time from practice time. A lot of it is focus and it's hard when you redshirt and two other corners you came in with play right away. It's like you are always playing catch up since they always have that little bit of experience on you. I know this that (Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith) are supportive and they want me to play as much as I want to play.
Badger Nation: How important do you think these next five weeks are going to be for you in order to show the coaches that you are improving and that you do belong out on that field?
Cromartie: It's very important because the coaches know I can play, it's about me taking that next step and getting on the field. I just have to keep showing them that I can play day in and day out and not have one bad practice effect my next day and have two bad practices. It's about separation, putting the past in the past and taking it one down at a time.
Badger Nation: How have you grown physically since last season? Where has been your biggest area of growth that you feel has got you in the right possession to compete for a spot?
Cromartie: I had the weight aspect and the strength aspect. Anybody can put on weight. I put on weight going into my freshman year, but that was from eating McDonalds. Now I am around 188 and I feel lean. I feel I can play and run, and I never felt this way before when it comes to the way I come off of breaks and moving. I just have to keep focusing and concentrating one day at a time.
Badger Nation: How have you and Coach Ash bonded and grown together from where you guys were in fall camp to now?
Cromartie: It's definitely a love-hate relationship. I hate him one day because he gets on us pretty bad and the next day is different. I know it's all for the best. I know he wants to make me better, which is ultimately what I am here for is to play football and get an education. I know he wants what's best for me, but he can be a hard ass sometimes.
Badger Nation: How much do you follow Niles and try to mirror yourself after the way he went about his business? Did you try to listen to him because he was the senior?
Cromartie: I feel it wasn't just me and Niles but the whole secondary as a group. It's him being the older player and a great player, you are going to look up to him and try to pick little things up. At the same time, if he was doing something wrong, we'd tell him about it. It's about all the DBs having one common goal and that's to get better, go back to Rose Bowl and win it.
Cromartie: From a pure playing experience, it has to probably be Aaron Henry because he's had his ups and downs and has seen this game from a full perspective being here for a long time. We really all need to be our own leader on the field, taking it upon ourselves to go out and make plays. That way, we don't have to rely on others to make the plays.
Badger Nation: Talk about some of the young wide receivers you have been defending. Who has impressed you out of that bunch?
Cromartie: One of those guys that has impressed me every day from day one, a guy that just comes out and works and can separate play time from football is Jared Abbrederis. He comes out and works every day and you hardly see that from a receiver. He'll do whatever you ask him to do – blocking, catching, everything. All the young guys are coming along. We worked with them one-on-one during winter conditioning. Kenzel Doe has really surprised me the way he has improved since January. He's running routes with the best of them. Badger Nation: Coach Bielema said from a team perspective, this was one of the best winter conditioning segments he's seen in his time here. Could you feel that, too?
Cromartie: Definitely. I think all of the seniors that were around for the 7-6 season know what it feels to be down and we all know what it feels like to go to the Rose Bowl. We know the preparation we need to have to put in for winter conditioning and we know where to set our standards. Coach Bielema said he doesn't worry about us when it comes to working.
Badger Nation: Where do you want to be when spring camp ends?
Cromartie: I definitely want to be a starter. Any corner that says less doesn't have the confidence at that point to be a starter. I want all the coaches and players to have confidence in me when I am out on the field.