Learning from the best

MADISON - Marcus Cromartie isn't a huge fan of getting up in the morning only to see the number five gracing the left side of his alarm clock. It's as close to a true rude awakening one can imagine, especially if the normal sleep cycle isn't privy to such a change.
But entering his junior year with Wisconsin, one that seems to be his best chance for a breakthrough, the opportunity to workout with a few NFL players, including his cousin and current New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, is just too good to sleep on.
"Antonio was picking me up at 6:00 in the morning," Cromartie said of his off-season workout partner. "We didn't get home until three in the afternoon. It's funny because I had to think that this is a grown man that is taking his whole day - he's not in school but he basically is - because he just works out from six in the morning to three in the afternoon.
"I kind of take that as accountability even though I kind of want to wake up at 11 because I don't have to be at workouts until noon."
Cromartie, who has done next to nothing in the regular cornerback rotation through this point in his career at UW, has undergone an entire attitude shift.
No longer are the days where he tries to soak up the spotlight as a member of the Wisconsin football team. Instead, by working out with the likes of his cousin, Super Bowl champion Clay Matthews and quarterback Jimmy Claussen, Cromartie realized that nothing is given at any level and that the truly great players work for everything they get.
"What I'm trying to do this fall camp is be more humble," Cromartie said. "There are a lot of guys that come out here and it's all about them. I'm just talking in generalities about college football players. I just feel like if the defense doesn't have a good practice, I don't have a good practice. I just want to take that accountability upon myself and just know that it's not about me, but that it's about the team.
"I'm just trying to be humble."
You could say the light turned on for Cromartie this summer during the hot, difficult and demanding workouts in California. He saw Matthews busting his tail with hopes of improving upon his breakout season in Green Bay. He also saw Claussen take it upon himself to improve, even though his Panthers team drafted Cam Newtwon with the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft.
"I kept thinking cameras, cameras and cameras," Cromartie said. "But that's not it at all. They just work hard. They get kind of a bad rap because the fans see them as greedy because they all want more money. These guys work. They're not just sitting in their 'mansions.' They work hard because that's what they enjoy doing. If you don't enjoy football then it's never going to work. You've just got to take it upon yourself just to listen and take coaching and listen to what they're saying.
"They're not trying to steer you wrong. At the end of the day they're trying to help you."
Matthews efficiently tabbed the young Cromartie 'Wisconsin' and encouraged him by calling him that moniker throughout workouts. If there was ever a moment when things would become lax for the junior cornerback, Matthews would take an opportunity to teach him how to overcome it.
"He won a Super Bowl," Cromartie said. "A lot of times when somebody wins a Super Bowl it's all about them and it's all about me. He was encouraging me to work hard. I was like, 'Wow, this guy just won the Super Bowl, but a couple months after he won a Super Bowl he was running up hills and encouraging me and telling me, 'Wisconsin, come on, lets go.'
"These guys work every day and they have expectations for themselves. They set the sky as the limit."
Now a week into fall camp, Cromartie is competing with a couple of players for a spot in the regular cornerback rotation.
Even if that means he has to get on the field in nickel or dime situations his new mindset and his new desire to compete at every waking moment seems to be helping.
"Fall camp is a marathon not a sprint," Cromartie said. "It's not about seeing things and being satisfied as much as it is about taking it one day at a time. I can't tell you what I'm going to do during the next practice or whether I'm going to have a good practice or a bad practice. I do know that I am going to approach it the same way and just take it one day at a time."
That's the exact change in attitude that his head coach Bret Bielema made a point to mention during spring camp. Just watching Cromartie throughout his career it's obvious he has natural physical talent. It's just been a matter of him wanting to find that consistency and approach that will allow him to utilize it in the best manner possible.
"Even off the field he's taken care of things better than he has in the past," Bielema said. "I grabbed him during the summer and told him that I was very much liking what I was seeing during the spring and during the summer months."
Working primarily with the No. 2 defense as a cover corner and with the No. 1 defense as a nickel back, it seems as though Cromartie has embraced the past week of camp when he had the pads on. He's a physical player that excels in those situations. For his continued progression and for his best potential to fully come through, he's got to keep competing.
It's as simple as that.
"Consistency," Cromartie said. "That's the No. 1 thing, consistency. That's all the coaches have been talking to me about since freshman year. I can't come out here and have an okay day of practice and then come back later that night and have a bad practice.
"It's about having the coaches trust in you."