I sat down to talk about the Texans secondary with former All-Pro Cornerback Antonio Cromartie, he provided us with great insight regarding the Texans secondary and what he sees in them as players.
Interview With Antonio Cromartie Pt 1 The Texans Secondary
J: We are blessed to be joined by Antonio Cromartie. One of the best CBs to play in the league. I don’t think that's unfair. I would assume you would agree with that statement.
A: I like to think that.
J: Yeah I mean you might as well.
A: I like to think that haha
J: I mean you were the Chargers the Jets, you had a great career, not only in the secondary but special teams, that FG return for 109 yards I mean, you’ve just been a celebrated player. So, thank you for taking the time man. I really appreciate it.
A: Yeah man, no problem man, I'm talking football.
J: Yeah, it's always fun to do. Before we begin I wanted to check on you and your family. I know COVID19 is just nuts, everybody safe in your family?
A: Man, everybody is good man, we're just enjoying this little time as family time, just enjoying it man. The biggest thing is its forcing family to have time together and have dinner time together. Something that a lot of families don’t get to have. It's something that’s important to us, and hopefully, everyone gets to see how important it is to be around the kids.
J: Yeah I consider it a gift and a curse.
A: I got six kids in my house right now. I have a 15-year-old, 10-year-old, 8-year-old, I got 3-year-old twins and a 2-year-old.
J: Man, phew
A: So yeah, so you can imagine how that is.
J: The two-year-old is probably fine with quarantine, the other ones are just dying to get out
A: Yeah they really want to go back to school. The twins they get up every morning and are like are we going to school. And we like Nah, school is at home, we home-schooled now.
J: Yup, yup. Okay so just a quick update, since you’ve retired what have you been up to? What's life like for Antonio Cromartie right now?
A: I'm training high school kids, I got a couple of college kids and a couple of NFL guys that I trained this off-season, so we just got back into it this week. And it's going great man, it's giving me something to do because I really want to get into the coaching part of it and that aspect of it. Not only that but I'm able to pass the knowledge of playing the position to those that are trying to play it now
J: That’s awesome, are there any thoughts of broadcasting. You're a natural at speaking, you have a following. Or is it just coaching, passing it down, that’s where you want to go.
A: You know, coaching is my passion, I love it, it's crazy but doing this stuff for high school, just making sure these guys are doing what they are supposed to do and we're trying to teach each other new things. But broadcasting man, when you talk about something that you love, it just comes up naturally. And you're able to break down things in a way that an audience is able to understand exactly what you're talking about. Because sometimes they may not know and when you can break it down to where they can understand everything that is going on in a football game, it makes it a whole lot easier for them and they can enjoy the game a lot better.
J: Yeah I agree 100%, you know one of the things I'm trying to venture out to, is making this a full-time job. Because if I can talk football for the rest of my life, and get paid for it, it’s the most ideal situation. I love this,
A: My point exactly, it’s the ideal situation where you're doing something you love so its not a job.
J: Exactly, exactly. So you did a great piece with my buddy Zack Hicks, on the Colts side of things. Zack is one of the more knowledgeable guys that’s covering the team, he's so good. So I thought we'd talk a little about the Texans secondary, your thoughts on the players, and just go from there. I've been extremely excited about Bradley Roby, I was super excited we brought him back this season. What do you know about Roby as a CB, what do you like about his game, what don't you like about his game and want to see him improve on?
A: I like Roby, I like the way that he plays the game, The biggest thing was as the Houston Texans needed something in the secondary, they needed someone who can come in and contribute as soon as possible, whether it be through trade, or free agency and they got Roby, I felt like he was doing great during that time with Aqib Talib, and Chris Harris Jr. When they had that dynamic trio there, I felt like he did the things that were asked of him, and that’s the only thing you can really do. The things that I don’t like, I don’t feel like he plays the ball very well. I think he panics at times when the ball is down the field on the deep ball. But I felt like at times when he's pressed or playing zone, he knows how to read certain things to make a play on the ball and give the team the chance to make a play
J: Yeah, I think one of my favorite characteristics, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, he's always in their back pocket. I think it's an extremely valuable asset to have as a player, specifically in the CB position, to be right there and tackle the WR right at the reception, not giving up any YAC yards, being able to bring him down and end the play right there. He's extremely good at that and can you talk about how important that is and what impact that makes on the team
A: Well, there's no YAC, that’s the biggest thing, you don’t want to give up any YAC, you want to have a bang-bang play. When you're looking at the WR, the DB can be there to make a play on the ball or make a tackle without giving up any yards, you got to think if it's 3rd and 7 and he gets 6, you can get off the field on 3rd down. You know he's a sure tackler, that’s one of the things I like about him, he's gonna come up and make a tackle in the run game and the passing game. But at the end of the day at a DB, it ain't about just making tackles, you know, it ain't about a guy catching the ball in front of you and making a tackle. It's about us making plays also. Something that that secondary really really needs on the back end and that’s why they brought him in and they are able to bring him back this upcoming year. It's just the point of being consistent on a week to week basis. But being the guy that can be a sure tackler, is always a tackler, no matter what you are.
J: Yeah, okay good. Alright so Gareon Conley, drafted by the Raiders, he was a top 10 pick coming out of OSU, rookie year played extremely well when in man. John Gruden comes in, they switch the scheme, played a lot of zone and off a lot, struggled in that scheme. BOB trades for Conley week 7 right before we play the Raiders. He comes in, we play strictly man, he thrives in the system. Watching the film and I know one of our guys is doing an article on him specifically, but once I recapped his season and looked at what he's able to do, I see a potential CB1, based on his playstyle, how he plays his coverage skills and he thrived last year. Can you talk about Gareon Conley a little bit, what you liked about him, what you see, and how he's going to play this season specifically?
A: Definitely, when you're looking at Conley I think the biggest thing, he's a nice sized CB, got long arms, can move very well, thus can play man to man very well. And that was his biggest attribute coming out of college at OSU, he plays man very very well. Can play the ball, has the athleticism when the ball is in the air. But at the end of the day you know the biggest thing for us as CB's is we got to play zone and man, you can't play man the whole entire game. If you can't read routes, you can't read route combinations and you don’t know how to backpedal, it's hard. And when you see CBs now that are coming into the NFL, none of them know how to backpedal. Not one CB in the NFL the last three or four years that came in knows how to backpedal. Everyone wants to just turn their hips and run with the guy, rather than playing the scheme and understanding what they doing., SO I think that’s the one negative thing with Conley, being able to play zone and read the route combinations. Route combinations are, they give them to you, everyone runs the same thing, they just run it from a different look, a motion to it, whatever it may be, For the CB it's just making sure, for him his weakness its something he has to work on during this time. It’s the most important time with everything going on with COVID. It is being able to mentally, watch the film, understand route combinations and understand what offenses are trying to do to you, From a standpoint of how they are going to get the ball over your head or how they are going to complete passes on you, when they put you in that zone, because man, that’s easy, you can cover your man, you can go up and press, but when you have to sit back on 3rd and 12 and you have to read route combinations because you're playing a zone technique, how's that going to benefit you and your team,
J: Yeah, an interesting nugget that you brought up as far as being able to play zone, and not being one type of CB with playing man since he struggled in zone in Oakland, we do mix in coverages so he's played zone a little bit in our scheme and on our team. Can you talk a little bit about the difference between coaching on one team and coaching on another, I know the terminology, but you see lots of time in the league that a player will struggle with a particular team and coaching, but once they are traded, things start to click a bit and they start to understand what they were asked of prior. Can you talk about what that looks like and what Conley would need to do to better understand zone
A: Well I just think it’s the way its taught, It's just like teaching math half the time, you got to break to be simple mathematics You know understanding what you got to do, for me if I have Conley, the biggest thing I'm going to tell him is to look, if I have two WRS to my side, read Number 2, if you read number 2, number 2 tells you every single route you're gonna get. 2 goes to the flat you're going to get a curl or a slant. That’s just basics 1-on-1. Number 2 comes up 5 yards and breaks out, you're getting a dig over the top or if he sits down at 5, you're getting a jerk route, by number 2 you're gonna get a dig over top. It's just simple things that he has to understand like when I got 2 WRS to my side if I'm to the X WR, and I'm alone to my side, the RB goes away, more than likely it's going to be a 1-on-1 route to my side. Even if we were in zone but if I got 4 strong, and the backside WR is by himself, more than likely they're gonna go backside. It's just trying to understand different things and the way he's being taught and is he actually sitting down himself and watching the film. To see what offenses did to him, because everything is the same, even if they motion to it. It's not how it starts, it's how it ends. You know they can line up 3 by 1 and go 2 by 2 and still give you slants or curl flat. You know, just by getting into it by motion, And understand that when a motion comes, the motion is more often for the primary receiver to the primary side., So now you know that you can eliminate a lot more routes and you can become a lot more confident in what is going on, from a zone standpoint. Because you’ve broken down every single route combination that they could do, whether it was motion too.
J: So one of the things that I really took away from that was, and this is really interesting is the fact that a lot of it is more on the player than the teaching they are receiving, If they really want to perfect their game and get better at it, they can't rely on the teaching, they really have to dive in and put in the work ethic to understand what these schemes sand coverages look like to thrive
A: 100%, it's not college, you don’t have school, you don’t have tutoring, you have none of that. You have nothing but football, that’s it. So you're not using your time wisely to watch the film for maybe an hour and a half, two hours, at work, at the facilities, I've still got to go home and put myself in a predicament where I can win on every single down. If you're not doing that you're not doing yourself justice or your team justice, if you're not breaking down film, the way you're supposed too
J: Interesting, okay thank you. So Lonnie Johnson coming out of Kentucky, 6'2 long arms, loved what he has in the toolkit, knew he was a raw prospect, he had to work on his footwork and his hips, they were very tight at times. What did you like from Lonnie coming out of Kentucky and what did you see from him last year that you think he can build on.,
A: I thought Lonnie was gonna be great, I talked to the coaching staff that was with him over there at Kentucky, so being able to actually watch him and being in contact with certain guys over there, and then being on him throughout his college career, it was pretty cool. I don’t think he has tight hips, I think when you look at him he never really has a backpedal linked to his hips. I don’t see him having tight hips, he showed he can get in and out of his breaks and flip his hips, you know, I don’t really think he has slow feet it's just a point of understanding your technique, you know, I think you have to be technically sound and some people may say your feet, your feet are too slow, well if his feet are too slow, move him to safety, don’t put him at CB. His footwork to me is fine, I just thought he got himself in trouble at times, being 6'2 he wants to stand up on everything, he's not playing low enough. So he gets himself in trouble when he pops up and has to sit back down when he should've already been low, so that’s the thing that more so gets him in trouble, more so than his footwork and hips. It's about him adjusting his plan at a lower level, and staying at that lower level, coming in and out of his breaks. I saw some flashes and I'm hoping to see a little more from him, just for having an extra year on his belt and understanding the system a lot more
J: Yeah, he's put in a lot of work this offseason with Rishad the Footwork King, and working on his footwork and opening up his hips. And obviously year 1 to year 2 is completely different. You're looking to build off of what you did in the offseason and continue to develop and work on the areas you know you need to work on. Can you talk a little about what working like that in the offseason looks like and how it can translate to year 2?
A: I mean for me, this just being me, I ain't working with someone that’s never played my position. That’s just me. Every guy that I've worked with, either worked in the NFL, as a strength and conditioning so they understood everything. They either worked with the DBs and that’s all they’ve worked with. But I'm not working with someone that’s never put the blood sweat and tears in this position, they can't teach me and mold me and say anything that I need to be better at, you know what I'm saying, that’s just me. I don’t care who dislikes it, whoever trainer, footwork, whoever it may be, I really don’t care. Guys may look at me differently but at the end of the day, I know the game, I understand the game I can teach the game, I understand what you're supposed to do from route combinations to get in and out of breaks, understanding what you're supposed to do, from a technique and a mental standpoint. Can't teach someone the game if you’ve never played it, or you’ve never studied it. Because there are coaches that never played the game but they understand the game from an X's and O's standpoint. And the biggest thing about the offseason is working on your weaknesses. It's working on getting in and out of your breaks and understanding what to do, Going through cone drills ain't gonna help that. You got to go through live-action where you're getting 1-onb1- reps and putting yourself in worse predicaments now than you would do in a season. You know what I'm saying. It's putting myself where I know where I might get into panic mode, and understand that oh, I got to move my hips, my eyes to the WRs hands, but I can't make a play on the hands because I'm in a bad position. Or, I might take a bad step, and the WRs already got by, so I got to close to the upfield shoulder, try to make up and make a play on a ball if he runs a dig or runs a comeback, whatever it may be. So it's little things like that that you want to put yourself in, I'm always preaching, put yourself in a worse predicament now so that it makes it easier when it comes to game time. You're not thinking about it, you're just reacting to it. Football is all about reacting, you're reacting to somebody else. So if I'm Lonnie, if I have a problem with, some people say its hips, If I'm 6'2, guess what I'm doing, I'm dropping my hips on everything that I do. So I might have somebody coming down, I might run 5 yards, I'm gonna break down the route and just get in and out of breaks, that’s the biggest thing, that’s what we have to understand, that’s what we have to do.
J: Okay, that’s great insight, it's interesting because if you look at working out with the trainer and then not working out, not taking actually reps against another WR, I've always wondered how that translates if you're doing those things, how can you know when to break, if you're not actually in the situation, how are you going to read that.
A: How are you going to be able to react. I can't react to cones. I can't react to stationary movement, or somebody that stunts in there and points me to where to go, I need actual movement to I need people to make sure I'm dropping my hips, making sure my eyes are in the right place and teaching eye discipline, teaching me hand technique, teaching me footwork and different footwork to get myself in and out of trouble, Helping me keep my hips square, not flipping my hips. It's not about me flipping my hips, but staying as square as possible, like in basketball, staying square, and trying to cut them off. It's just so many things that some people, these so-called "expert trainers" and everyone else saying that they know, but they don’t know. And when you're teaching guys at that level, are you teaching them, or are you just doing it for namesake and basically taking money, It's about all season, is about teaching you, learning from your mistakes, breaking down the film and being able to correct your mistake that you made during the season so when you go back to camp, you're not making the same mistake, so they can see a growth in you from year 1 to year 2. That’s what it's about, I want a big jump from year 1 to year 2 because my mental aspect of the game is a lot sharper. And I'm able to react more so now than to just go out there and just play football.
J: That’s good stuff, okay. Alright, Vernon Hargreaves, he was cut by the Tampa Bay Bucs, we brought him in midseason, a lot was made, you know 1st round pick, really his first year or two was fine, and then BA came in, looks like things happened, that maybe were out of his control, maybe not, that’s between Vernon and BA, but he came in midseason, he definitely struggled with us in the slot last year, he wasn’t very good in the slot, but he did come in midseason, so maybe that plays a part of getting adjusted, were gonna talk about that more in-depth in a bit, They cut him and brought him back because they declined his 5th-year option, he's still young, can he adjust and adapt and evolve as a player to become that star CB that we need, or, what does it look like for Vernon to take those next steps.
A: I like Vernon man, even though he went to UL(University of Florida), I'm from FSU, I like him, man, I thought that he showed flashes of what he's able to do, its more so the consistency part of it, when you're looking at him. He has to be more consistent, yeah he came into halfway in through the season, which sometimes as a nickel back is hard because you have so many jobs as a nickel back, from you're blitzing, your playing LB, to now you got to cover, now there's a possibility that you could be playing safety, now there's a possibility that if your guy motions outside, now you got to go outside and play corner. So there's so many jobs and so many things he's got to think about, so maybe at the time, his play wasn’t as great, because he wasn’t playing mentally fast, because it wasn’t there yet. Man, the kid showed flashes even in Tampa Bay, he's a guy who can play at a high level in the nickel position, I just think once he gets comfortable, once he gets into the groove, you will see that first/second-year guy, who played a hell of a year when he was with Tampa his first two years.