The big-name free-agent signing as the 2011 player shopping spree opened, Nnamdi Asomugha arrived in Philadelphia with the greatest of expectations. A Pro Bowl player for years with the Raiders, Asomugha was to be the finishing touch for an Eagles secondary that would match up with any set of receivers in the game.
But it didn't work out quite that way, as we all know. There is no sense pointing at one thing, or at one side of the ball or at a single decision that was made. It ... just ... didn't ... work.
As spring blossoms in South Philadelphia, so does a new enthusiasm for Super Bowl hopes in 2012. The Eagles return an offense that is virtually intact from last year. The defense has been fortified with some big-time additions to the front seven.
And the hope is that the back four benefits with addition by subtraction. The trade of cornerback Asante Samuel last week to Atlanta changes the whole makeup of the group, and Asomugha is affected as much as anyone.
If he is asked, as is expected, to sometimes shadow a opposing wide receiver, Asomugha is ready to respond. Last year Asomugha played the right cornerback position. He moved inside to the slot at times, dropped into a safety look every once in a while and even gave a hint as a blitzer, but he was never asked to go take out a receiver. It was Samuel on one side, Asomugha on the other and, for the most part, that's the way it was.
This year? Get ready for some changes.
"If that's the case, it's absolutely pleasing to me, but what we were doing last year, I think, was something that I felt eventually would work out," said Asomugha. "We're still doing some of that, with moving me across the field so I think a year further into it will be even better.
"But as far as the other stuff, they'll have us playing a certain way. They want us to be a more aggressive type of defense this year, as opposed to the 'off' coverage that we were doing. It's going to be fun to see how it evolves."
There are two perceptions that Asomugha would like to erase, once and for all, as he begins his second year here. One is that he played primarily press coverage in Oakland. That simply isn't true. Asomugha played both zone and man and he played off the line of scrimmage and he played in bump-and-run coverage. He has done it all in his standout career.
The other perception is that Asomugha plays only on the right side of the defense. It is a label that he detests.
"That's one I've been trying to dispel," he says. "I don't know how that became the thing that everybody ran with. If we needed a guy to try to take out of a game, a true No. 1 wide receiver on the other team, I was asked to go do that."
Asomugha said he was asked to do that "only when there was a guy that we needed to take out," which doesn't happen that often. Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City is an example. Brandon Marshall in Denver, for example. In San Diego, the Chargers had Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd and Chris Chambers, so the Raiders didn't target one receiver.
"If there was a clear difference between the No. 1 and the No. 2 receiver, which there isn't on many teams, but if there was, I would go ahead and follow that guy," said Asomugha, who estimates that he was asked to play that way about 50 percent of the time.
"I'm a preparation freak, so doing that is actually easier for my preparation because I'm studying the guy, the receiver, more than the offense. When I'm not doing that, I study everything about the offense, about the personnel.
"We mix a whole bunch of different coverages here. I enjoy that. It makes me prepare that much more."
The scene at the NovaCare Complex these days is extremely upbeat. The attendance for the offseason conditioning program is great. The vibe is about energy and competition and focus on the season ahead.
It is dramatically different now than it was when both Asomugha and fellow cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie joined the team (Rodgers-Cromartie was acquired in a trade once the NFL's work stoppage ended). Back in late July and August, the attention was overwhelming. Both players reported straight to Bethlehem, PA and training camp. They didn't know much about the players or the coaches and even less about the organization.
Asomugha is far more comfortable now than he was then. He knows the people he sees every day in the hallways. He understands how the organization works on and off the field. He is used to the tempo of the life.
All of this is positive as the Eagles march forward together in a changing locker room. There is new leadership (middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans) and a bunch of new players (primarily from a draft class that could have a significant impact).
"It's much different right now. It's different for myself and for everyone," said Asomugha. "We feel like we know each other. We've kind of been through the fire together. It was like everyone was assembled last year and we were playing a preseason game a week later.
"We've been through all of that together. Guys are a lot more comfortable and a lot more excited about what we can do. For me, I went from a guy who knew everyone on my team in Oakland every single year to here, and it was like the first day of school. There really wasn't time to get to know everyone and then we're on the field in a week playing with guys that I really didn't know. That was a little bit bizarre."
Add into the mix that Juan Castillo was a first-year defensive coordinator after spending 13 seasons coaching the offensive line. Who was he? What did he know about defense? What did he know about Asomugha and what Nnamdi could do?
"It didn't take long for me to understand him," said Asomugha. "It might have taken him longer for him to trust me and the things I was sharing with him and the ways that I would try to give input. I think by the time we got into the middle of the season we were on a very communicative page where we could just throw stuff back at each other and I could see him listening and I could understand the things that he wanted.
"The relationship, the level it is right now, I wouldn't say it was night and day from where it was, because we worked well throughout most of the year, but I would say it moves at an easier pace because we know what each other is thinking.
"He still wants me to do a lot of the stuff, a lot of the moving around and playing inside and playing outside, but I think a year of playing it, and now being in the offseason and learning more about the defense, is going to be very helpful."
The best of Asomugha is to come in this defense. In Year 2, he is the man once again. The scheme calls for him to be versatile, intelligent, aggressive. It is the right set up at the right time for Asomugha and an Eagles defense that has the right vibe with training camp just a few months away.