Throughout his career cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha has been one of the most feared and respected defensive backs in the league. For years his name has been used in the same breath as Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, and both are widely considered to be the only true "shutdown" corners left in the game.
Asomugha came to the Eagles last season with an impressive résumé: since 2003 he has been to the Pro Bowl three times and been awarded four All-Pro selections. In Oakland, Asomugha was arguably the best player on the team, and as such, quarterbacks avoided throwing his way. According to Stats, Inc., quarterbacks throwing against Asomugha between 2007 and 2010 completed 66 of 136 passes (or 48.5 percent) for only two touchdowns.
Last year, however, teams were throwing his way more than he had seen in Oakland. In 2011 he was targeted 41 times, the most action he's seen since 2006. But despite giving up four touchdowns, Asomugha allowed catches on just over 51 percent of passes thrown his way. That's the fourth-best mark of his career.
"It's a beautiful challenge," Asomugha said. "That's what you want. You want opportunities to play as opposed to just being out there. So it's a good challenge, just learning new things and getting into it as far as the competition level."
In Oakland, Asomugha could count on the opposing quarterback staying away from him. And while he wasn't allowing much when opportunities did come his way, those chances were too few and far between for someone as competitive as him.
"In Oakland, you're competing on every snap, but you don't have an opportunity at the ball on every snap," Asomugha said. "And my mentality since I've been in the league was play hard every time that I'm out there and good things will happen, one way or the other."
So far, those good things have been going Asomugha's way. Though he's already been thrown at 17 times (which puts him on pace for 68 targets this season,) the corner has only allowed eight catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns. That puts him on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career.
"If the guy makes a catch, it's not because I wasn't playing hard," Asomugha explained. "I never proclaimed perfection on the field or anything like that. My whole motto has been playing hard, being focused on every snap. If the guy gets one, he earned it. They're getting paid the same way we are, but obviously you want to be great at it. But you're not going to be perfect all the time."
That isn't to say Asomugha enjoys being beaten. You don't get to the NFL with that mindset. But Asomugha's been around long enough to know that a short memory is necessary to be elite at any position on the football field, especially cornerback.
"You don't want anybody to catch a ball on you, but if you dare for one second hang your head when a guy catches a ball on you it's over," he said. "The entire game will be terrible."
To this point, he's been anything but. What Asomugha has been is a dependable and cerebral player capable of shutting down receivers as well as he ever has.
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