Nnamdi Asomugha is a four-time All-Pro, has been to three Pro Bowls and yet finds himself battling for a roster spot. Things have changed dramatically for the corner that was once regarded as the one of the best in the league during his eight seasons with the Raiders.
After the last two years in Philadelphia where he and the rest of the Eagles failed to live up to expectations, Asomugha comes to San Francisco making just $1.35 million in base salary. He originally signed a five-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles with $25 million in guarantees but was released just two seasons in.
Asomugha joins a 49ers defense that returns all five of its corners from its Super Bowl season and ranked sixth in passing yards allowed. He practiced for the first time in full pads Saturday, as did the rest of his new team, after working in shells during the team’s offseason program. With pads, the true evaluation can begin.
“It’s definitely good for when you want to me be aggressive to have the pads back on. I think up until now it’s just been working on your feet, maybe working some of your off-game. But I think the aggressive part of it starts to play a role,” Asomugha said.
That aggression could be a slight against the Eagles scheme that asked for the Cal alum to play more zone after specializing in a man-to-man role during his best seasons in Oakland. Defenders tend to play reactively in zones while man-to-man schemes allow them to act more instinctively with less responsibility.
During his session with the media before Saturday’s practice, Asomugha was asked about the differences in culture he’s seen in his short time at the Santa Clara facility compared to his previous teams. He had never played in the playoffs during his 10-year career making a winning atmosphere both foreign and welcoming.
“I think the fact that they’re coming off the Super Bowl definitely changes the whole landscape of how the season is going mentally for me so far. It’s a fresh start, but it’s building off success,” he said.
Much was made of the Eagles’ “Wide Nine” defensive scheme implemented by former offensive line coach Juan castillo to combat the read-option offense. But regardless of scheme, Philadelphia didn’t have much talent on the defensive front, which burdened the team’s corners to disastrous results.
With the 49ers, he feels confident the coaching staff’s ability to put players in position to succeed. For now, that position involves battling for a roster spot among a group of corners that has far more experience in coordinator Vic Fangio’s system.
“I think (head coach Jim) Harbaugh and Fangio they have a good plan for the team,” he said.
“I don’t think they made any decisions without thoroughly going over it with each other and the rest of the staff. You definitely start to see that in that sense, just the overall look of the team and how they’re trying to make it.”
As far as how the new scheme benefits his skill set, Asomugha said it’s a mix of zone and man-coverage that isn’t dominated by one or the other. But it’s the overall style of Fangio’s defense that he could benefit from.
“I think it’s great. The aggressive nature of the defense is really good. I think just the players that are around the defense I think help anybody out,” he said.
The 49ers’ top three corners are likely assured a roster spot, putting Asomugha in direct competition with Tramaine Brock and Perrish Cox for the fourth or fifth corner spot. Asomugha has spent time taking reps with the special teams in training camp, which would add to his value to the team. Coming in with the minimal cap number, San Francisco is hoping the low-risk signing of Asomugha can result in the return of a highly productive player as he was in Oakland.