OAKLAND - Count Nnamdi Asomugha as an Oakland Raiders history buff.
A fan of the team while growing up in Los Angeles, he had aspirations of being the next Marcus Allen, a smooth glider of a running back who cut through defenses for big gains.
But Asomugha, a product of Nigerian immigrants, also was aware of the long line of talented cornerbacks who have played the position before him, including Willie Brown, Michael Haynes, Lester Hayes and Charles Woodson, all shutdown corners during their time in Oakland.
All Asomugha needs to do is look up from his defensive back drills to see one of them, as Brown serves as one of the team’s defensive back coaches.
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It’s a lineage Asomugha said he’s proud to share with the rest of them.
“It’s great to be mentioned with those guys,” he said. “Obviously those guys have all been to a Super Bowl, so they have a little more to talk about. But as far as the All-Pro’s and the Pro Bowl’s, we share those things in common, so that’s great. And I think people take note of a corner that plays with the Raiders because they know what we’re asked to do, so more times than not if they’re able to be successful playing here people will respect that.”
The 29-year-old Cal product is considered one of the best in the business at his position. A safety for the Bears during his college days, at 6-2, 210 pounds the Raiders saw the potential for Asomugha to be the team’s next Haynes – a tall, physical defender who controlled receivers at the line of scrimmage, yet still possessed the quickness and straight line speed to run with the best pass-catchers in the game.
So far Asomugha has proven Oakland’s scouts correct. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler. And although he’s only totaled three interceptions in his last four seasons after finishing with a career-high eight inceptions in 2006, most of that has to do with the fact that teams rarely test him.
In 2009 opponents attempted 30 passes to receivers Asomugha was covering – less than two per game.
“He has great speed,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “He has tremendous length. He’s just as long as you can get, and that wing span that guys have, the broad shoulders and long arms, allows them to just envelop guys as they come off the ball. Receivers releasing in bump and run just can’t get away from him. And then he has the great speed to race with guys, so he’s perfect. He’s exactly what you’re looking for in a press corner. He takes you back to Michael Haynes.
“He doesn’t get tested very much, but we’ve got to make sure we still make him work and test him out there. We wouldn’t want him to get bored.”
Along with his physical skills, Asomugha says the key to his success is his preparation.
“It would probably be laughed at by most guys because you would think you don’t need to do that much in order to be successful,” Asomugha said. “But I always want to be one step ahead and try to understand what’s going to happen before it happens. So preparation and then just being able to transfer the preparation on to the field. I think that’s a big thing because that just helps with your confidence level.”
Asomugha likely will see a lot of Mike Williams, a former teammate of his at Oakland who has 21 receptions over the past two games.
However, because teams like to avoid him, the Raiders are moving the talented corner around, flipping Asomugha from side to side and playing him inside on slot receivers so teams have a harder time avoiding him.
“I would expect him to maybe play us differently this time because of the makeup of our team,” Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “Mike Williams has really showed up, and now with the success that we’ve had, we’ve got to expect that teams will maybe play us different than we’ve studied on film. So he’s a great player, and you can build a defense around him. And in some ways they have.”
Eric D. Williams: 253-597-8437