New season, new attitude benefit Eagles' Asomugha

Posted: August 05, 2012

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - One year ago, Nnamdi Asomugha's training camp became marked by a whirlwind of installation and instability. He signed with the Eagles on the third day of camp and could not practice for nearly a week. Two days after agreeing to terms, Asomugha couldn't explain how he might fit in the Eagles defense. The season was six weeks away.

This year's camp has been different. Asomugha walked out after practice Saturday wearing a black T-shirt with the cover image of the Beatles album Abbey Road. The first track is titled "Come Together," which serves as a fitting description of Asomugha's second summer at Lehigh. All the uncertainty of 2011 has vanished. He knows what to do, where to go, and what is expected of him.

"Comparing training camps, it's not fair," Asomugha said. "Going through the last training camp, there were so many things I was thinking about, so many things I was trying to get covered. Coming into this training camp, having the offseason and having last season to go through the fire a little bit, it's not even a comparison.

"Everybody's calmer, I'm calmer, much more confident in the things I'm doing. My coach is more confident in what he's doing. It's not a comparison at all."

The serenity of this summer for the Eagles has not gone unnoticed. Much of that can be attributed to the lack of unhappy players, no potential contract issues looming for general manager Howie Roseman, and no major injuries. Yet Asomugha's comfort relative to last season should also prove helpful.

There is a convenient, if not accurate, narrative that the Eagles were doomed last year by the "Dream Team" label. Though Vince Young said it, it was Asomugha's contract that seemed to prompt the proclamation. Despite the hoopla of being the top free agent available, Asomugha was never able to mesh fully into the defense in time for the season. That created confusion about how to deploy three Pro Bowl cornerbacks and how new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo's defense worked.

Castillo did not even want to discuss last season when asked about the cornerbacks on Saturday, but he said he has noticed the synergy between Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Rodgers-Cromartie has been one of the standout performers, excelling in his outside-cornerback spot.

Rodgers-Cromartie was quick to admit last week that any success he might experience in 2012 will come, in part, from the inclination of opposing quarterbacks to avoid Asomugha.

Told that Rodgers-Cromartie believes quarterbacks will look away from him, Asomugha smiled. It's something he's heard before - "The other corner has always said something like that," Asomugha said - and history has proven that's the case. According to the website Pro Football Focus, Asomugha was never targeted more than 30 times in his final three seasons with the Oakland Raiders. That number rose to 47 last year, when the Eagles were trying to figure out the best way to use him. But if the Eagles figure out a better way to maximize their cornerbacks' talents this year, opposing quarterbacks might target Rodger-Cromartie - even if Asomugha refuses to think that way.

"In my career, yes," Asomugha said. "Because in my career, that's been the case. It does provide the guy with more opportunities. Dominique's been a great player, and he has all the intangibles to continue to be that guy."

Asomugha will also play inside on certain occasions, and the Eagles have shown a coverage in which Asomugha plays in the slot against a bigger target. But the overriding sense is that he has a better idea of how to play in this system, and the coaches have a better idea of how to play him. The harmony might be tested when the season arrives, but so far things have come together this summer.


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

 

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