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September 1, 2011

Corners hoping to step up

MADISON - If for nothing else, Marcus Cromartie, already a person with plenty of confidence, added a bit more validation when he saw his name slashed with Devin Smith's on UW's initial depth chart.

He knows he's done well enough through fall camp to garner legitimate playing time in 2011.

"It just let me know that my coaches trust me," Cromartie said. "I'm just trying to be more consistent whether I get the start or if he gets the start. I know my role on the team and whenever I get on the field I know the coaches will expect me to make a play.

"That's what I'm going to try to do."

Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash told reporters earlier in the week that he expects Smith to get the nod as the starting cornerback opposite Antonio Fenelus when the Badgers open their season tonight against UNLV.

Completely understanding of that fact, Cromartie continues to motivate himself because he knows that unlike in years past he's going to play a major role in the success of the Badger defense this season. He doesn't have time to mope about not quite earning starting status because he's still being held accountable.

"Last year I felt like I had a chip on my shoulder because I wasn't getting playing time," Cromartie said. "This year I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder because I feel out of all the defensive starters I've proven myself the least. I don't know how much people are expecting or what they're expecting, but I know that if I'm put on the field they'll have a certain expectation.

"I'm trying to live up to and beyond that."

Smith, much like Cromartie, has a drive about him.

Entering his senior year and having already played in 37 games throughout his career, Smith is entirely confident in the manner he approached his offseason work.

"I'm trying to become more of a student of the game than I already am," Smith said. "It's also about understanding certain situations that the offense gives and understanding receivers and offenses a lot more. Just having that experience, starting last year and playing again this year, is just giving me a lot of experience to see what it takes to get the job done."

The Badgers secondary gave up about 194 yards passing on average a season ago. Antonio Fenelus, UW's All-Big Ten performer from last year, is back for his senior season. Smith played quite a bit for that team, but mostly was reduced to nickel and dime situations, a role that Cromartie will play this year.

Now, with Smith and Fenelus as the top two corners on the roster at a position that will need to be a strength for the defense to have success, a guy like Cromartie can help bolster the depth.

"I'm just definitely going to bring myself and the intensity that I bring," Cromartie said. "I pride myself on my speed and athleticism. I pride myself up on certain things but I know my teammates and coaches trust me so I'm just going to go out there and play my game."

Ash has said he would like to see a more aggressive mindset out of his players throughout the season on more than one occasion. He said he wants to play the guys that the coaching staff trusts the most and he wants them to play at a level consistent with the standard he's set.

It seems like both Cromartie and Smith are up to the task. They've just got to prove it on a weekly basis.

"I know that coach Ash really wants us to play more aggressively so we can have the confidence to make certain calls," Smith said. "The player makes the call. The call doesn't make the player. We have that mindset. It doesn't matter what call is called we should be able to go out and dominate whenever."


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