First-round draft pick Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has flashed his talent but is still learning five games into his rookie season.
The mistake couldn't even be timed in seconds, it happened so fast.
One moment, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was taking a step in to jump what he thought was a dig route by Bills wide receiver Lee Evans. The next moment, Evans was flying past the flat-footed rookie cornerback.
Rodgers-Cromartie has world-class speed, timed in the 40-yard dash before the draft in 4.29 seconds. But that wasn't helping this time.
"By the time I turned around, he was 30 yards down the field," Rodgers-Cromartie said with a sheepish grin. "Wasn't no making up there."
The Cardinals' No. 1 draft pick has the raw skills to be a great cornerback in the NFL. His coaches and teammates believe he'll eventually get to that point. But heading into a game against Dallas in which injuries could force "DRC" into a larger role, the only certainty about Rodgers-Cromartie is that he is still learning.
Evans ended up catching the pass in stride for an 87-yard touchdown. It wasn't that Evans got open where Rodgers-Cromartie made the mistake. Instead, it was the idea that Rodgers-Cromartie would bite on a pass that would have been about 10 yards when it was third-and-14 with Buffalo on its own 13-yard line.
"That is part of being a young player in the league," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We are fortunate that play didn't hurt us in a critical situation. He will learn from that."
Understanding defenses, understanding the tricks of veteran receivers (like Evans' double move) and just understanding situations are where Rodgers-Cromartie must improve.
Anxious to make plays and prove his worth as a first-round draft pick, Rodgers-Cromartie admitted he can be too aggressive.
Part of the rookie's learning curve includes how to practice. Coaches have been on him since offseason practices to finish during practice plays. Too often, Rodgers-Cromartie will quit on a rep if he feels he blows a play.
"If I feel I should have made the interception, and I let (a catch) happen, I kind of stop and unbuckle the chinstrap when I know I should finish," Rodgers-Cromartie said.
Recently, veteran defensive backs Antrel Rolle and Rod Hood have made the effort to help Rodgers-Cromartie learn to study film -- "They said I be looking but I don't be looking," Rodgers-Cromartie said.
Getting burned on a double move isn't shameful, Hood said, since it's something that even veterans have trouble handling. But improving his mental game is a must – not knowing down and distance, for instance, won't fly.
"I talk to DRC all the time, because I know he has so much talent," Hood said. "This game is all about confidence. You get down on yourself, I don't care how much talent you've got, you aren't going to play (well) with it. I talk to him, I tell him, 'Look man, you have talent, just understand the situation you are in.' "
With Hood battling a groin injury and fellow starter Eric Green also missing part of Wednesday's practice with a groin strain, DRC might be right in the spotlight against the Cowboys. Whisenhunt said with Rodgers-Cromartie getting steady playing time in the first five games, the coaches would be confident he could hold his own.
Some of his improvement can only come through playing in games anyway, Whisenhunt added.
Quiet and polite off the field, Rodgers-Cromartie definitely believes it is a matter of when and not if with his potential.
"Oh, he's a character, man," Hood said. "He knows he's good. He knows he's good. But that's good though. As a cornerback, you have to have that confidence. He just needs to know the situation."
That's a concept Rodgers-Cromartie has down cold already.
"I just know once I get the defense down," Rodgers-Cromartie added, "I will take off as a player."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 10/8/08.