Football Notes

This cornerback has good deeds well-covered

By Albert R. Breer
June 6, 2010

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Nnamdi Asomugha walks contrary to what most believe his profession to be.

As the NFL has waded through an image crisis with its players’ off-field troubles, Asomugha has embodied everything commissioner Roger Goodell wishes them to be. As so many players used college as a means to turn pro, Asomugha not only embraced the experience, he has tried to pass it on.

And as some in football revel in its sleep-at-the-office culture, the game is merely a part of Asomugha’s life and not an all-consuming pursuit.

Suffice it to say, the blockbuster contract that the Raiders signed their star cornerback to in 2009 isn’t the only way that Asomugha has broken the mold.

“Among my priorities, football’s my career, and so it’d be faith, family — I’m not married yet, so that’s my immediate family — and it’s right there with those,’’ he said.

The difference between Asomugha and so many of his peers is that football itself doesn’t stand alone.

Perhaps the most impactful thing he does is his annual Asomugha College Tour for Scholars, which takes disadvantaged but high-achieving high school students to tour campuses in a faraway city. It was held in Boston in 2008, and has been in New York and Atlanta.

Asomugha has taken about 10 students on past tours, but this year’s jaunt, held in Washington (with stops at Georgetown, Howard, George Washington, and American), had 16 students. And while Asomugha took Bay area kids, as he has in the past, this year he also ran an essay contest at the three Los Angeles-area high schools he attended to include students from there.

“These kids in at-risk communities, if they want to think big, the environment they’re in doesn’t allow them to,’’ Asomugha said. “Leaving that particular environment gives them the chance to see something else. I don’t know that you can think big if you haven’t seen anything but your neighborhood. Some of the [Bay area] students haven’t even been to San Francisco, and that’s 20 minutes away.

“But if they get to see different cities and states, and these colleges, they learn to think differently. It gets them thinking in that direction, outside of the circumstances they’re in. That’s progressive thinking.’’

While he once hoped the tours would grow to 250 students, he has learned to value the personal time and has adjusted his goals to make it more of a full-service experience for these gifted kids. And he’s constantly augmenting and tweaking; this year, the kids played a few strings at the White House’s bowling alley.

But that’s hardly the only thing he’s working on. He stays very connected to his family’s charity, Orphans and Widows In Need, which helps orphans and widows in Nigeria, where his parents are from.

He also has built a relationship with Bill Clinton and helped with the former president’s efforts in education, becoming a speaker at the Clinton Global Initiative University the last two years. He says that relationship is a pretty natural one — “People talk about [Barack] Obama with basketball, but Clinton’s like that with football’’ — but one he doesn’t take for granted.

“I’m fortunate, grateful — I don’t know if there are enough words to describe it,’’ Asomugha said. “What helps is I don’t really think about it. It’s not a matter of being star-struck or in awe. It’s feeling inspired by these people.

“I think, ‘What can I gain from this? How can I make this relationship grow?’ ’’

His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.

Asomugha received the Byron “Whizzer’’ White Award (for service to team, community, and country) from the NFL Players Association this year, and will be given the Jefferson Award for Public Service this month in Washington. He also received a letter lauding his efforts from Obama and hopes to finally meet the president during that trip to D.C.

So with all that on his plate, how in the world does he make time for football?

“I feel like when I’m not doing something, there’s someone else that is, and so A. I’m missing out and B. there’s someone that could benefit from my experience that isn’t,’’ Asomugha said.

“I don’t like sitting around. I get into all these things because I like doing them. It never seems like a lot. I hear that all the time — ‘You’re so busy and still playing football’ — but it never registers like that.’’

As for football, Asomugha is well aware of the 29-83 record the Raiders have posted in his seven years. He worries what effect a mark like that has.

“It’s your legacy,’’ he said.

But he also feels good about the direction of the team and thinks, finally, this could be the year a breakthrough comes.

Either way, the future from a personal standpoint looks bright for Asomugha.

He mentioned broadcasting and acting as possible future pursuits, eschewing the idea that he’s a politician-in-training.

And all that money he’s making? Asomugha is trying to invest wisely, hoping to someday be the owner of an NFL team, or a franchise in another sport.

But for now, he’ll continue to focus on making himself and those around him better. He’s hoping to sit down with Goodell to discuss how the league can better its players in these ways.

“I haven’t approached him yet,’’ he said. “But that definitely has to happen in the near future, because with all the different things they’ve done with the NFL and I’ve done, there’s a natural connection I’d have with the commissioner.’’

Something else on Asomugha’s plate? Chances are, he could handle it.


Newest Seahawk plans for present and future

Marshfield’s Sean Morey (left) has lasted far longer in the NFL — 10 accrued seasons under his belt — than most thought he would.

Early in his career, he worked transient jobs (delivering furniture, working on a fishing dock) to stay available for coaches and keep his dream alive. He has won one Super Bowl (with Pittsburgh), played in another (for Arizona), and logged time for the Eagles.

As he packs his bags one more time, and heads off for Seattle — he signed a two-year deal this offseason — the challenge is different. Originally drafted by then-Patriots coach Pete Carroll in 1999, Morey will be expected to spread Carroll’s gospel, something he’s happy to do.

“It would’ve been easy to stay [in Arizona],’’ Morey said. “I’m leaving a locker room where I know guys’ kids’ names, their wives’ names. I was a captain, a Pro Bowler.

“But I just feel like Pete didn’t get a fair shake. The business being what it is, I don’t blame the Patriots, but I think Pete has the chance to do something great here.’’

So the 34-year-old special teams ace puts another city on his log, but it doesn’t mean he isn’t preparing for life outside football. One way he plans to do that is by giving back to the game. Morey was at a concussion summit last week in Washington to advocate for the health and safety of players.

“We’re trying to educate on the cumulative effects of head trauma, with repeated blows,’’ he said.

While that Brown degree could certainly open doors for Morey post-football, part of the plan is for his wife to pursue her goals. As he was building his career, his wife Cara sacrificed a dream to play Olympic hockey for Canada to support him and raise their daughters. So he hopes to give her the chance to teach and coach. He’d like to work with kids down the road, too. For now, finishing his football career right is paramount.

“I thought I’d be done years ago,’’ he said. “I just wanted to prove to myself I could do what people said I couldn’t.’’


Hands-on coach can do without coordinator

The Patriots will enter the 2010 season without coordinators, and a quick look through NFL history shows that Bill Belichick (left) will likely be the first to do so since Jerry Glanville guided the Oilers in that fashion in the 1980s.

But just because no one has the title doesn’t mean the job won’t be taken care of. Quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien has been in command in spring camps, and his acumen will be vital to Belichick’s plan to help out on the defensive side.

Nine teams played the 2009 season with the head coach assuming a coordinator-like role on one side. And it takes trust that the other side will be taken care of.

“If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would do the same exact thing, as long as you have someone you feel very, very comfortable with on offense,’’ said Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo, the former Dallas head coach who worked under Wade Phillips in such an arrangement last year.

“He’s in charge of everything on game day, but over the course of things, he’s watching everything, but you have to have a guy that thinks the same way he does on offense. And that’s part of it.’’

So what are the benefits? Well, in Dallas, it became Phillips running the scheme he designed, and that streamlined communication. Captain Bradie James says, “He wouldn’t even let a minor misstep go. We did the simple things better. And right.’’

It can also be a way of establishing or, in the Patriots’ case, re-establishing a coach’s philosophy. When Pete Carroll got to USC in 2001, he chose to run the defense, because he felt like his ways would take root quicker.

“These guys were going to know who their head coach was, because I was going to coach the defense, I was going to install the stuff. I was going to be all over them,’’ Carroll said. “And not only the defense would know, but the offensive guys would know, too, because we’d beat the crap out of them in practice. And so they’d realize it, too. I needed them to follow.’’


Hold that thought on camp holdouts
Any contract “holdouts’’ at this point are minor, since the most these players are staying away from are the three-day veteran minicamps. So while a slow news cycle may push players like Logan Mankins, Darrelle Revis, Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Shawne Merriman, and Vincent Jackson to the front pages, this is not the time for concern. Are these issues more likely to extend to training camp than in the past? Possibly. The 30-percent rule (keeping existing contracts from being extended with more than an incremental raise off the current year salary) is wreaking havoc on young players’ ability to get new contracts coming off their rookie deals. Chris Johnson, a 2008 first-round pick, is the prime example. Last year, he rushed for a league-high 2,006 yards but made just $385,000, meaning he’s eligible for base salaries rising just $115,000 per year off the original number. That gives teams the leeway to legitimately say what a player never wants to hear: “Our hands are tied.’’ The only way to structure a market deal for such a player is to load it up with an unrealistic amount of bonus money. The 30-day rule will also help teams in this regard: It stipulates that players under contract failing to report within 30 days of the season opener lose a year toward free agency.

Getting to know you
A peripheral benefit for the Patriots spending time in Atlanta this summer might be their exposure to the Falcons’ no-huddle package, since the Colts have given the New England defense fits with offensive tempo in recent years. Setting a high pace in offensive practice work is usually part of installing no-huddle looks, so the Patriots could benefit from that in the teams’ joint workouts in Georgia in August. The no-huddle approach shows the high level of confidence the Atlanta staff has in quarterback Matt Ryan to make adjustments on the fly, and also highlights offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey’s past experience with Sam Wyche, one of the first NFL coaches to institute a no-huddle. While he was rehabbing a toe injury, Ryan periodically came into the facility to study and watch film in January and February, months when players generally stay away. “[His work habits] speak volumes for the type of person Matt is, and it sets an example,’’ Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “Matt walks the walk.’’

Things to do in Denver
Brady Quinn has taken the first step toward rebuilding his career three years after Cleveland took him in the first round of the draft, and less than three months after being dealt to Denver for a couple of goal-post pads. The Broncos whacked 2009 draft pick Tom Brandstater, who’d made strides as a rookie, to open up more reps for Quinn, Kyle Orton, and Tim Tebow. “I thought this day would come at some point where we’d eventually end up going down to three,’’ coach Josh McDaniels said. “And we have [six spring practices] left to try to really work with three that are left on the roster and give them the attention that they’ve earned.’’ Most expect Tebow to redshirt 2010, but as a first-round pick, the Broncos have to get him practice work. So taking those reps away from the rest of the quarterbacks played into the decision. And it implicitly says that Quinn’s in the running. On one level, it would make sense organizationally to start Quinn; he’s under contract for the next two seasons at a cheap rate, while Orton is on a one-year restricted free agent tender. So having Quinn as the starter in 2010, if he and Orton are comparable in their competition for the job, would give the team the leeway to allow Tebow even more time to develop since Quinn would be easy to keep for another year.

Giants stocked at receiver
One area of improvement lost in the Giants’ disappointing 2009 campaign was within the passing game. An offseason focus for New York was to develop its young receivers into larger roles, and find a few more for the stable. Steve Smith developed into a bona fide No. 1 receiver with 107 catches for 1,220 and seven touchdowns, while Mario Manningham (57 receptions, 822 yards, 5 TDs) and Hakeem Nicks (47, 790, 6) showed big-play promise. All that helped Eli Manning post career highs for yards, touchdown passes, completion percentage, and quarterback rating. And another threat could be on the way. In 2009, the Giants took a third-round flyer on super-sized receiver Ramses Barden out of Cal Poly. The 6-6, 229-pounder is generating excitement in spring workouts and could develop into a matchup nightmare. Even more exciting for Manning? The opportunity to grow with these guys; Smith is 25, Manningham and Barden are 24, and Nicks is 22.

Three and out
The Bears have their entire rookie class signed, which is partially explained by their lack of first- and second-round picks, but a feat nonetheless. The Chicago Tribune reported that each has an escalator in 2013, the final year of all five of these rookie deals, tied to playing time and offseason-program participation . . . Give Denver credit for its handling of its five high-level restricted free agents. They dealt two (Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler), got one to sign his tender (Orton), and locked up another (Chris Kuper) long-term last week. Only Elvis Dumervil remains unresolved . . . Don’t be shocked that the Rams are taking time assimilating Sam Bradford into the lineup, and keeping him off the first team for now. GM Billy Devaney was with the Chargers during the Ryan Leaf disaster, and can still remember how badly San Diego missed in its assessment that Leaf was prepared to take on all that went with being the starter.

Albert R. Breer can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @albertbreer. Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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