This past week, the New York Jets signed Eric Crocker, a 6'2", 195lb undrafted cornerback out of Division-II University of Arkansas-Monticello that's also played in the Arena Football League with the San Antonio Talons. Never heard of Crocker, or UAM? That's alright; Mr. Crocker knows you haven't and is ready to show you that he belongs. In our last introduction, we met Marcus Dowtin. Today, I had the opportunity to talk to Mr. Crocker about finding himself on the big stage.
Before I interviewed Eric, I watched some of his past film (which you can find below). A few things immediately stood out to me. The first is that Eric is a sound tackler, and has excellent ball skills. Tackling, in particular, is something he's worked on. Early on, coaches stressed the importance of it and he worked specifically to "add a punch" to his hits. In nineteen games with the San Antonio Talons, Eric had 70 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, and 3 interceptions.
Furthermore, Eric quickly appeared comfortable in both man and zone coverage. I asked Eric about my observations, and he said that he prefers to play man coverage, specifically press coverage, which is perfect for the man-heavy Rex Ryan schemes. Eric is most comfortable locking his man down one-on-one, but he went to three different colleges with three different systems, so he feels comfortable adapting and playing any defense. "Cover three, cover two, it doesn't matter," Eric stated with the confidence apparent on tape.
I asked Eric about his tryout with the Jets and what the process was like. He emphasized how nerve-wracking it was, stressing, "It's a job interview." The tryout consisted of bringing Eric to the facility, into the locker room. Upon arriving, QB David Garrard was there, warming up for his own workout. Naturally, Eric was starstruck, but tried to stay focused and get over his nerves by listening to gospel music, including the song "Goin' Up Yonder," his grandmother's favorite song.
The workout was led by Defensive Coordinator Dennis Thurman and Defensive Backs Coach Tim McDonald. They had Eric run a 40-yard dash, the 20-yard short shuttle, and standard defensive back drills. It was a long process, taking a full day, including a four hour physical examination. One shot, Eric said. He had one shot to impress the coaches to land the coveted contract. Thurman stressed conditioning, and how important it was to show up to mini-camps in shape and ready to go.
I mentioned that Eric would be on a team with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, two of the best players in the game at the position. I asked Eric how he wanted to define himself from them, and what he wanted the coaches to say to each other when they met to talk about the players. Eric noted that he knows he's an unknown player, and that unlike those who get drafted, he's had to start at the bottom. "I have to work ten times harder," just to get noticed. Hard work is what he wants to emphasize, and what he wants the coaches to see. And as for his personal goal? Right now, it's to make it through training camp and land on the 53-man roster, which, in his words, "would be a blessing."
It's not an easy road for any player to make the 53-man roster, and Eric has his own obstacles that he'll have to overcome. However, Eric's playmaking ability, hardworking nature, and humility make him a player that I'll certainly be cheering for.
You can find Eric on Twitter at @eric_crocker.