Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will face an old teammate and mentor this Sunday:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Nine years ago, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie entered the NFL as the Arizona Cardinals' first-round draft choice. One of his teammates who mentored DRC was Larry Fitzgerald, then in his fifth season.
Rodgers-Cromartie left Arizona before the 2011 season, when he was traded to Philadelphia. He spent two seasons with the Eagles and one with the Denver Broncos and is now in his fourth season with the Giants and 10th in the league. Tomorrow, the Giants will face the Cardinals
in Arizona. One of the receivers DRC will cover is Fitzgerald, now in his 14th season. Fitzgerald has 1,217 career receptions, 15,371 yards (both the third-highest totals in NFL history), and the universal respect of NFL player, including his former teammate.
"He's one of the best ever, easy," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I think for him to be playing at a high level still in this day and age and still putting up the numbers he is, he has to go down as one of the greatest."
This season, Fitzgerald has 92 receptions. No one else on the Cardinals has more than 33. The other four receivers on Arizona's depth chart have 78 catches – combined.
As he studied the Cardinals this week, Rodgers-Cromartie has seen the same receiver he lined up with when he was a much younger player.
"I always tell people, he may not be the fastest or have the most athletic ability," DRC said, "but if you throw it in his catch radius, he's coming down with it at least nine out of 10 chances. So he's always been that guy that if you throw the ball up to him, he's going to make it happen."
Rodgers-Cromartie said Fitzgerald's contributions extend far beyond statistics.
"He teaches you more than just about the game," DRC said. "I think he teaches you on the field and off the field. But on the field, he definitely teaches you how to be an overall pro. For all of the years that I was there, he was just so professional man, so fun, loving, caring. It just shows. That's why he's been around so long and blessed and still playing the game, man, at a high level."
Rodgers-Cromartie joined the Cardinals from Tennessee State, not exactly a traditional football power. "I came in just raw," he said. But Fitzgerald helped refine him.
"He's athletic, and there were times where we used to go out at practice and he used to beat me, and I would ask him, 'Man, how is your slow behind beating me?'" DRC said. "And he would tell me certain things so I wouldn't always have to rely on my athleticism."
Even if Fitzgerald were no longer in uniform, Rodgers-Cromartie said returning to Arizona would make this a special weekend.
"Great memories," he said of his three-year tenure with the Cardinals. "We went to the Super Bowl my first year (losing to Pittsburgh), and then second year we came back and went back to the playoffs, so we were definitely playing good football down there. They were the ones to give me the opportunity, they drafted me, so I'm always going to remember them.
"It definitely made football fun, just coming in from college when you think you know it all, but you have some guys that have been there, done it a while, and kind of show you the ropes."
This season, of course, has not been fun. The Giants will trudge into University of Phoenix Stadium with a 2-12 record (the Cards are 6-8). Rodgers-Cromartie played on a 4-12 Eagles team in 2012, but the two-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl participant said this has been the toughest season of his career.
"This is my first time ever losing a head coach (Ben McAdoo was dismissed on Dec. 4), so that's always tough," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "But I am definitely learning from it. I'm blessed to be here. Even though it's tough, I appreciate it. Because at the end of the day, this is a game I definitely love and I still have the ability to play, so I'm still enjoying, having fun and playing it. I still have the speed, still have the strength. You can put on the film, you don't see guys running past me, that's not going to happen. So I know for a fact I definitely can still play."
What motivates a 10-year veteran toward the end of a two-win season?
"I think the young guys in the locker room just coming here every day and embracing my fellowship with them," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "It keeps me young, and I still want to go out there and compete. I still have the competitiveness in me, so I think that will keep me motivated."
DRC still hopes and believes the Giants will finish with more than two victories. Although it might mean little in the grand scheme, beating Arizona and Washington would at least put a palatable ending on an unpleasant season.
"I think you go into the offseason feeling better about yourself," he said. "To go out with two games under your belt, that's not good, but to go out with two wins against two good football teams and both teams I feel are playoff caliber, so it will let you know where we are as a team.
"We still have a season to finish, so I come in here and try to keep the smile on my face, keep the energy in the locker room and try to keep it positive. At the end of the day, it's still just about playing football."
Keep an eye on these five players as the Giants get set to face the Cardinals