If you named fans of the Philadelphia Eagles to name the most disappointing player on the team in 2011, you’d get about ten different answers.
Michael Vick couldn’t stay healthy and wasn’t productive when he was healthy. Vince Young couldn’t fill in for him when he was hurt. DeSean Jackson had an attitude problem that never went away. Casey Matthews never should have been on an NFL roster, let alone a starter. I could go on and on.
Cornerback Nnamdi Asomgha definitely belongs on that list, probably near the very top.
He was brought over from the Oakland Raiders to solidify the right cornerback position for the Eagles, which was arguably the biggest weakness on the defense in 2010.
The biggest free agent acquisition of the offseason signed a five-year, $60 million deal.
And then things went downhill.
Blame it on new defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who had never coached an NFL defense before and was in over his head from the very beginning. During training camp, he talked about using Asomugha in a similar fashion to Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers, who line up at cornerback, safety, and linebacker, and excelled against the pass and on the blitz.
The only problem was that Asomugha lacked the physicality of Woodson. If you’ve never had it, you’re not just going to develop it overnight.
The rest of the secondary didn’t help either for Asomugha. Asante Samuel had a pretty good year, but former Pro Bowler Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was completely lost as the nickel cornerback. Safeties Kurt Coleman and Jarrad Page were subpar. Jaiquawn Jarrett was invisible. And Nate Allen was still affected by a torn patellar tendon suffered the previous season.
“I don’t really think too much about last year,” he said. “It’s so separate for me because it was such a [negative] situation. Just everything that went into it. The learning curve. Being out there and trying to do a whole bunch of things I hadn’t done. Just that curve, it was challenging. And I didn’t put out what I wanted to put out.
“I look at last year as being totally separate from this year. I have a whole different scale that I’ll evaluate this year on. I was doing new things last year, but still, the standard was high. With me, the standard will always be high. If they put me out there at quarterback, the standard would be high.
“It wouldn’t matter how many new things they asked me to do, how many new positions or new coverages they asked me to do, I still wanted to be great at all of them all the time. So when I wasn’t able to do that, yeah, it was disappointing.”
This season, the Eagles replaced defensive backs coach Johnnie Lynn with Todd Bowles. Lynn had been a former defensive coordinator with the New York Giants but he was not a success during his lone season in Philadelphia.
Bowles, on the other hand, brings a very impressive resume to the table. He’s worked as the defensive backs coach with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, and Miami Dolphins. He spent the last four seasons as the assistant head coach with Miami, and he even served as the interim head coach after Tony Sparano was fired.
Asomugha’s role this season is actually defined. He won’t have to take on packages that he isn’t comfortable with.
“We’ve come a long way,” Asomugha said. “We’ve been pretty vanilla so far [in the preseason games.] We haven’t blitzed, we haven’t really played coverages yet, so I think once we start game planning for people and putting in all our coverages and blitzes, I’m really looking forward to seeing where we are as a secondary. I’m excited about it.”
It’ll help this season that the rest of the secondary is about twice as good as last year.
Troublemaking cornerback Asante Samuel is gone, where he’s now a backup with the Atlanta Falcons. Rodgers-Cromartie is back where he belongs, starting on the outside, and most expect him to rebound to his old Pro Bowl form. If training camp is any indicator, he will. At safety, Nate Allen is completely healthy and poised for a breakout season in year three. Kurt Coleman is a year older and hopefully better. The same goes for Jarrett.
The supporting cast should really help Asomugha. So should the defined role, as well as the new coach.
But last year’s disappointing season will also serve as fuel for the 31-year old cornerback, who still has never played for a winning team despite nine seasons in the National Football League. With Oakland, it didn’t matter what Asomugha did each season. The Raiders would win four or five games because they had major weaknesses at a number of other positions, notably quarterback. But last year was the first year that a good season from Asomugha likely would have resulted in a playoff berth for his team, and he couldn’t come through.
Asomugha says he isn’t even thinking about 2011 anymore. He’s completely focused and motivated for 2012.
“I don’t really think about last year, but it did help motivate me during the offseason – to get in the books and take the offseason and take the time to prepare to really have a different kind of season,” he said.
“It’s all about consistency. Last year, there were some really good moments, but there were also some really tough moments. I think it’s about consistency, especially for a guy of my caliber, what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished. It’s definitely something that I strive for.”
“My expectations are through the roof. Definitely through the roof. Nobody’s expectations are higher than my own.”
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.