Exclusive: 1-on-1 with Raiders CB Asomugha


Exclusive: 1-on-1 with Raiders CB Asomugha

Paul Gutierrez

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- A gentle trade wind blew across the Ihilani Resort and Spa Wednesday afternoon. How appropriate, given Nnamdi Asomugha is at the eye of a potential hurricane for the Raiders.

The face of the franchise shockingly saw his contract voided at the conclusion of the season when he was not able to meet certain on-field incentives and yet, was named to his fourth Pro Bowl and was, this week, announced as the top vote-getter at cornerback in All-Pro voting.

After the first day of Pro Bowl practices at Kapolei High School, I caught up with Asomugha poolside at the team hotel and resort in West Oahu. He spoke on a variety of topics, from the dismissal of Tom Cable to the elevation of Hue Jackson. From last years trade rumors to this years free agency revelation. From people reading into his comments, to his refusal to read into Raiders owner Al Davis comments on him.

Following then, is an unplugged Q&A with Asmougha, with Raiders fans hoping the South Pacific trade winds dont necessarily mean change for their favorite team and player
Gutierrez: A lots happened since the end of the season, starting with Tom Cable being shown the door. You surprised by that move?

Asomugha: "When it happened I just figured that there was something that they talked about as far as management and that there was some areas that they thought that they needed some improving in coaching. I mean, that was the only way that I could really understand why Cable was let go. Obviously, we dont know all the reasons why decisions are made but it was one that I thought going through the year, the way we were playing, OK, at least well get to the end of the year and this wont be something that well talk about. This wont be an issue like it has in the past.

Gutierrez:Talk to Al Davis about it at all? He has been known to reach out in years past to get players opinions.

Asomugha: Yeah, but the thing is, this was one of those years that, you know, the players wouldnt have expected that. When you go 2-14 then youre like, OK, something might happen. So maybe it might be good to talk and see what can happen. But you go 8-8 and you think youre maybe on the upswing so no one was really thinking about that. But then it happened and when its done, I think (there is) no better guy to take over than Hue because Hue was a part of the 8-8 season.

Gutierrez: Hues part of the continuity you have talked about needing?

Asomugha: Its still there. Its still there so its not one of those things where youve done well and then youve cleaned house, so its definitely a step that makes sense.

Gutierrez: Speaking of cleaning house, six coaches are no longer with the team.

Asomugha: I dont know which coaches were going to be brought back.

Gutierrez: Six are definitely gone (Ted) Tollner, (Paul) Hackett

Asomugha: Tollner? Hackett? OK Wow.

Gutierrez: (Jim) Michalczik, (Chris) Morgan and (Mike) Haluchak and (John) Marshall.

Asomugha: So everyone else is still there?

Gutierrez: Theyre still on the Raiders Web site.

Asomugha: Oh, so theyre there for now?

Gutierrez: Yeah.

Asomugha: Well, I think continuity, a lot of it, the majority of it stems from the head coach. You can change the pieces that are in between and you can change some of the coaches that are assistants and are position coaches but when the head coach is the same, or that philosophy is the same, that really can be passed down to whoever is brought in.

Gutierrez: You see that press conference last week?

Asomugha: Als? Heard about it; didnt see it.

Gutierrez: It was epic. Have you talked to Al since the season ended?

Asomugha: No, havent spoken to him.

Gutierrez: You were brought up, obviously, and he talked about how he called you last year to ask if you wanted to be traded to New York but you said you wanted to come back. You remember that conversation?

Asomugha: Oh yeah, 100 percent thats a true story. Thats a true story. He called me. He called me and he asked me, What do you want to do? You want to be traded? I didnt know that was something that was going to be discussed to the media, but it was and its a true story. Everything he said was true. He asked that, asked me if I wanted to be traded because he was hearing that I wanted to be traded. I said, No, I dont want to be traded. I told him, Everything you heard, you didnt hear from me. Ive never been quoted saying I want to be traded. So it was upsetting that it hit so many people in that way when it was such a fabricated story. Were here at the Pro Bowl and no one ever says that, and no one ever alludes to it. Its just (Darrelle Revis saying), Oh, its fun to play with this guy, joking around, and the guy writes a story because hes trying to find a story. And you see the power of the media after doing that. No offense, but something can start off as a little flicker and then just blow up and then you just see it everywhere, Oh, Nnamdi wants out. It reminded of that Dwyane Wade commercial where hes in the closet and hes trying to get out and he yells, I want out! Now its spread and Im like, I never, ever said that. Never felt that. Never would have said that and it hit (Davis). So when I heard him ask me, do I want to be traded, I cant believe that this is even coming to this because this is such a crazy story.

Gutierrez: Is it crazy, or strange, then, to be here at the Pro Bowl wearing Raiders gear since youre technically a free agent?

Asomugha: No, its not strange at all. In fact, I wanted to. Theres no other way that Id have it. Ill represent the Raiders and Ill continue to represent the Raiders while Im there no mater what. They asked me about the Walter Payton Award stuff, How do we recognize you? I said, Im with the Raiders. List me as the Raiders cornerback.

Gutierrez:; Fans have Tweeted me, asking me to tell you that youre still wanted in Oakland. Not sure if that was ever in doubt, but could fan support be a factor in your decision?

Asomugha: That feels good. The fans have always shown support. I know in my early years, it wasnt that way (laughs). But its that sort of tough love and I struggled the first couple years. Since Ive been playing, and since Ive been starting and theyve seen and theyve watched me work my hardest to try and turn things around, theyve always supported me. Its great. Even when I got hurt, the support I got from the fans was great.

Gutierrez: I know youve said that the prospect of being a free agent didnt hit you until after the season ended, but going into that last game wasnt it strange knowing that if you picked off one pass, recovered one fumble, got one sack, the Raiders were going to be on the hook for a pretty big chunk?

Asomugha: Going into the game, that never crossed my mind.

Gutierrez: But you were aware of it?

Asomugha: Its one of those things that you might be aware of because you were told two years ago. First of all, if no ones throwing at you, that might be able to be factored into not getting a step. But the thing that jumps out is no one would have guessed that I would have missed two games because of an ankle injury. What are the odds that that would happen? Its a 16-game season and you go through that and you finish the season and you move on. But the thing was, if you play less than you did the year before. And no one could have guessed that that would have happened, and it happened. And it was on a fluke play (the ankle sprain), one of those uncontrollable things and then it left us in the place where were at.

Gutierrez: Is it a weird feeling where youre at now?

Asomugha: Its strange, yeah.

Gutierrez: Youre a California guy -- went to high school in L.A., went to college at Cal, have played only for the Raiders, have developed a huge fan base. Youre also a worldly guy with your foundation and social work. Being a free agent and being untethered could be a scary thing, or are you excited about the potential of dipping your toes in the waters of free agency?

Asomugha: I would say that its notits not one of those things that I was super happy about, you know? Not one of those things that I was happy about when I found out. Just because of everything that weve been through and how far we have gotten, to now have all these decisions be made and its not how its been every year. Its never been like this before. A couple of years ago it was like, Oh, well, youre going to be a free agent. Then I get franchised. And then the next year its like, Oh, youre going to be a free agent. And then I sign the contract. And then the next year, Oh, youre going to be traded. And Im still back. Now, this year, Oh, youre going to be a free agent. Like I said, weve seen so many different scenarios happen, I just dont know what to expect. We dont know whats going to happen.

Gutierrez: Would it be tough to leave?

Asomugha: Easily. Of course. Of course it would be tough to leave.

Gutierrez: You see where Al Davis essentially complimented you for being worth 17 million, but wondered aloud whether he could get two or three decent players at that price?

Asomugha: Yeah, I heard about that. I cant read too much into that, because(Chargers LB Shaun Phillips approaches and the two exchange hugs and pleasantries)

Gutierrez: So you were saying you cant really read into what Al said about the 17 million?

Asomugha: I dont want to do it because its been done to me. I never told that reporter I wanted to leave. I never told him I wanted to be traded but people tried to read into something and took something from it. Im not going to read into that. I know that people then said, Oh, well the hint is, he was giving a hint that he was going to cut you. He was going to cut Nnamdi. I dont deal with hints. I dont work on hints. So Im not going to read into anything that he said. The fact of the matter is, we are where we are. You cant go back and try to replay it.

Gutierrez: Youre hanging with Ray Lewis, and who else is at your table?

Asomugha: Reggie Wayne, Brandon Meriweather.

Gutierrez: You see Shane (Lechler) and Zach (Miller) in the pool?

Asomugha: Ive got to find Shane. Weve got a karaoke bet that hes got to live up to.

Gutierrez: Footballs the most violent of sports, youre literally trying to take each other out on the field. And yet, guys from different tams are like long-lost brothers hanging out here.

Asomugha: Were all humans. Because people dont know us and they just know us as football players, they think were football players all the time. Were not. And so when we dont have helmets on, we know how to get along with each other. When we put the helmets on, I have no business getting along with them if theyre not on my team. But we take them off, we can all hang out and have a good time. I know youre enjoying yourself.

Melifonwu back at Raiders practice, designated to return off IR


Melifonwu back at Raiders practice, designated to return off IR

ALAMEDA – Obi Melifonwu participated in a Raiders practice Wednesday afternoon, his first session in months.

The second-round safety has been on injured reserve all season and hasn’t done football activities of any kind since suffering a knee injury in a preseason game in Dallas.

He had arthroscopic knee surgery and was put on the shelf for the season’s first half. Melifonwu's professional career barely started and then quickly stopped. That's why Wednesday's practice was such a big deal. 

“It was awesome to get back out there, finally,” Melfonwu said. “It’s been a while. It was beyond fun to just be out there and practice with the team."

He nearing a return to game action. That’s why the Raiders designated him to return off injured reserve. Wednesday marks the start of a three-week practice window where the Raiders can decide whether to put him on the 53-roster.

He’s expected to do so when eligible. Melifonwu was first able to practice this week, and can join the 53-man roster after Week 8. His NFL debut could come in Week 9 at Miami.

He can't wait, especially because he's physically ready now. 

"I feel 100 percent," Meilfonwu said. I feel fine."

The Raiders still struggle covering the aforementioned skill players, using young linebackers or an undersized safety against those guys. The Raiders have given up the most yards to tight ends and running backs in the NFL this season. Melifonwu was drafted to help cover tight ends and running backs right away in sub packages, with a long-term eye on a full-time starting spot.

"I bring versatility, and I think I’m a guy who can fit into a lot of different spots," Melifonwu said. "Wherever the coaches need me to fit and help the team win, I’m all for it."

He has missed significant development time while out. He also missed most of training camp with an apparent ankle injury. The team hopes he can be ready to contribute when eligible despite missing so much time. The downtime was difficult, but Melifonwu now hopes to hit the ground running.

"It was definitely tough," he said. "As a competitor, you always want to be out there helping your team win. As a guy who hasn’t been hurt, it was pretty tough. It comes with playing football. I’m just glad to be out there now."

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

Bowman out to prove something with Raiders: 'I have a lot of juice left'

NaVorro Bowman hasn’t been a Raider long. The inside linebacker visited the team’s training complex Monday morning, signed a one-year, $3 million contract that afternoon and was on the practice field a few hours later.

Bowman’s in something of a rush. His new team plays the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night. Bowman plans to face them.

That’ll take a crash course in Raiders defense. There’s new terminology to learn and roles to master, even if he hones on a specific package.

It won’t be easy. Even a perfect week might come up short with but one real practice in an incredibly quick turnaround.

It’s rational to think he won’t be ready, fair to give him two weeks practice before a Raiders debut.

That’s not the tack he’ll take.

“Hey,” Bowman said, with a wry smile. “I’m going to show you something.”

He understands the situation. The Raiders are 2-4, in desperate need of an AFC West win. A loss might put the Raiders too far down to rebound. The four-time All-Pro knows he’s needed, and believes he can help if he can get some scheme down.

“It’ll take a lot of hours, a lot of studying, a lot of repeating the same words and things like that,” Bowman said after Monday’s walk-through. “It’s part of being a good football player. You have to put the time in. It doesn’t come easy.

“I’m the guy to do it. I won’t let them down. I’ll put the work in that’s needed to be done.”

Immersing in brand new can be a cleansing process. Bowman left the only NFL team he’s ever known Friday when the 49ers cut him loose. He wanted to spend his career with one team. After seven-plus seasons, a switch was required. He didn’t like losing snaps. The 49ers wanted to go younger at the position. A trade was attempted. He didn’t like the suitor, and the 49ers respectfully pulled back. An outright cut was the decisive action.

It gave Bowman an opportunity to choose his next step. He didn’t go far. Bowman’s new job sits 35 miles north in Alameda, which offered plenty of advantages for a family man.

“My twin girls are five and my son is eight and they’re in school,” Bowman said. “They’re doing really well so you always want to keep that going as a parent. You don’t want to keep switching them in and out. That played a big part in what I was going to do. For the Raiders to show as much enthusiasm in wanting me to come here made my decision a lot easier.”

Enthusiasm was evident in two ways. The bottom line comes first. The Raiders offered $3 million to make this deal quick, adding a solid sum to the $6.75 million base salary guaranteed by the 49ers under his previous contract.

The second was clear in a Monday morning conversation with Jack Del Rio. The Raiders head coach spoke plainly, saying Bowman could make a major impact as a player and veteran leader of a shockingly young position group.

“It was really upfront, letting me know their position and how bad they want me,” Bowman said. “He let me know exactly what he wanted to get out of me coming here and being a presence for this defense. Being more vocal, getting guys to understand the urgency to be really good at the NFL level.”

His lessons start Tuesday morning. Starting weakside linebacker Cory James introduced himself in the locker room Monday and asked Bowman when he’ll start watching film. The answer: bright and early.

Bowman has a game to play Thursday. That’s possible because he didn’t have to relocate. He can just hit the ground running. He’s been constantly learning new systems during the 49ers coaching carousel, so he’d a quick learning. He also sees similar concepts between schemes.

“It’s not too different,” Bowman said. “The terminology is really the hard part. I’m a fast learner. I went out there today and I think I did pretty well. I’ll get in here early tomorrow and learn from my mistakes and try to keep getting better.”

That’s Bowman’s first goal. He also wants to show knee and Achilles’ tendon injuries haven’t sapped his effectiveness as many believe.

“I’m only 29 years old,” Bowman said. “I still have a lot of juice left in me.”