FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie made the 2 1/2-hour drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff with an Arizona Cardinals staffer on Saturday.
Rodgers-Cromartie had a chance to take in some pretty scenery and think about an even longer journey - his transformation from a skinny, unrecruited cornerback at Tennessee State to a first-round NFL draft pick.
``It gave me a lot of time to just think about what I've got to do and the work I've got to put in and all the things that I overcame just to get here,'' said Rodgers-Cromartie, who signed a six-year contract on Friday.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. To make room for Rodgers-Cromartie on the roster, the Cardinals released running back Chris Vincent, who signed with the team in April.
The Cardinals have had their share of lengthy contract holdouts by draft picks. But Rodgers-Cromartie missed only two practices, both on Friday.
He also missed the call from his agent, Eugene Parker, telling him that the two sides had come to an agreement.
``Actually, I missed like six calls because I was sleeping,'' Rodgers-Cromartie said. ``I got a couple of text messages that were like, 'Man, get up, it's time to go to work.'''
Rodgers-Cromartie was so anxious to report that he arrived at the airport four hours early for his flight from Nashville to Phoenix.
``I thought it was going to be sooner than this,'' he said. ``I had my bags packed like two weeks ago.''
He made it in plenty of time for Saturday afternoon's practice, which was moved to Northern Arizona University's Walkup Skydome after storms swept through the area.
The Cardinals hope the 6-foot-2, 183-pound Rodgers-Cromartie will help beef up a pass defense that ranked 28th in the NFL a year ago. But Rodgers-Cromartie isn't guaranteed a starting job, and he'll have to compete with cornerbacks Eric Green and Rod Hood, who played capably last season.
``This year, to be honest, it's just getting in and establishing myself as a player,'' said Rodgers-Cromartie, who will wear No. 29. ``I'm not looking to start right now. If it happens, I'll take on the role. But if not, I'm just going to do my part for this first year, and then this next year, I'm looking to take off.''
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has not committed to playing Rodgers-Cromartie right away.
``At some point, who knows when that's going to be, I expect him to contribute,'' Whisenhunt said.
Even if he doesn't start in the secondary, Rodgers-Cromartie is almost certain to see significant time on special teams.
Rodgers-Cromartie returned kickoffs as a senior, averaging 24.4 yards and returning one 92 yards for a touchdown. He also blocked eight kicks in his career, tying a school record with four blocks as a senior.
Rodgers-Cromartie's athleticism impressed the Cardinals' scouts. At Tennessee State, Rodgers-Cromartie won the 60 meters, long jump and high jump at the Ohio Valley Conference Indoor Track Championships. He said his best 40-yard time was 4.26 seconds during workouts for NFL scouts.
But Rodgers-Cromartie knows that he won't be able to rely on his athleticism in the NFL.
``I learned that I've got to be more sound in my technique,'' he said. ``It's not all about my ability any more. I mean, I can run with anybody. But even if I'm off in backpedal just a little bit, it can be the difference between just getting there and breaking up the pass and intercepting it. So I've got to be more focused on just my assignments.''
Rodgers-Cromartie is hoping to become the latest in a long line of productive NFL players who went to small colleges. He doesn't think the transition from Tennessee State to the Cardinals is a big deal.
``The only difference, I think, is that you get that elite competition every week,'' he said. ``It's not, some weeks you've got a good receiver, and some weeks you just relax. I just feel I've got to be more focused and study a whole lot more, and then I'll be alright.''

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