ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s laugh rang from his corner of the Denver Broncos’ locker room after Friday’s practice, just as it did during his two seasons with the Eagles.
Former Eagles coach Andy Reid used to say that “every day is a good day for DRC.” But the team suffered from more bad days than good days when Rodgers-Cromartie was in Philadelphia.
Rodgers-Cromartie’s smile is for good reason this season. He signed a one-year deal in Denver during the offseason and has become an integral part of the Broncos’ defense. A win in Sunday’s AFC Championship against the New England Patriots would give him his second Super Bowl appearance in his six-year career.
Rodgers-Cromartie insisted he’s the same player he was with the Eagles. He’s just making more plays and winning more games.
“Same me,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I had a lot of plays to make last year in Philly, and I didn’t make the opportunities. I made the most of them this year.”
The numbers suggest there’s been improvement. Rodgers-Cromartie is ranked among the NFL’s top cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus. Only 44.6 percent of the passes thrown in his direction have been caught this season. That number was around 58 percent during the last two seasons. His three interceptions this season match his two-year total with the Eagles.
“Just going out there playing with confidence,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “After you lose so many games in Philly last year, you go out there timid, scared to make a mistake, thinking that you’re going to get put on the bench. You got all that going through your head. This year, I just said, ... ‘I’m going to go play.’ “
He no longer has the green-painted faux-hawk hairstyle, but he has not shed his colorful personality. Safety David Bruton, who sits one locker over, remarked how funny Rodgers-Cromartie and how he remains a “big kid.” Rodgers-Cromartie kept repeating how much he’s enjoying this season.
Rodgers-Cromartie said he did not need to prove anything despite signing only a one-year deal. He viewed the contract as another year to play football. He’ll be able to command a long-term deal this offseason based on his performance.
“If I could say anything, I’m just taking coaching a little better,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “The coaches realize where I could get better, and I really bought into the system.”
He arrived in in 2011 as a Pro Bowler in his prime with an intriguing blend of size, speed, coverage skills, and ball skills. Former Eagles cornerback Brandon Hughes said that Rodgers-Cromartie has the ability to be a “Hall of Famer.”
“You don’t get too many guys that can cut, break, quick as a cat, with ball skills,” Hughes said last season. “He can press you, he can play off ... He really doesn’t lack a skill that you need to be successful at corner.”
Rodgers-Cromartie called the losing in Philadelphia a “learning experience.” He also said that losing made any issue seem worse than it was that’s why he disputed the notion that there’s been any dramatic improvement in his performance. He views it more as the by-product of the situation.
“If we were winning, it wouldn’t even have been talked about,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “So I don’t get into having a bad year. It wasn’t the year I would have liked to have as far as interceptions and shutting people down, but at the same time, that was just a bad year, period, for the whole team.”
Bruton said he did not realize how good Rodgers-Cromartie’s ball skills were until he saw them in person. It’s not just the interceptions. Rodgers-Cromartie led the team with three pass breakups in the divisional round win over San Diego. He’s playing the way the Eagles hoped he would play — and it’s the way Rodgers-Cromartie insists he’s always been capable of playing.
“I got a chance to reevaluate myself, and coming here, it’s been a good year,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “I’m just looking to finish.”