BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- Nnamdi Asomugha is aware that his first year with the Philadelphia Eagles wasn't up to your expectations. It wasn't up to his, either. Even forgetting his own individual performance, the team went 8-8. Asomugha didn't pick the Eagles from among a crowd of frothing, free-spending suitors so he could finish .500. He could have stayed with the Oakland Raiders and done that.
But as he looks ahead to his second year in Philadelphia, Asomugha has reason to think things can be different. He likes the look and feel of the team in training camp better than he did a year ago, when everything and everybody seemed to have been thrown together all of a sudden. And he feels better about the change in the coverages he's going to be asked to play in 2012 as well. First-year Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo used a lot of zone coverage last season, and this year they're going to be more of a press man coverage defense. That's what Asomugha played in Oakland, and that's what makes him and fellow starter Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie most comfortable.
"Look, a corner that's playing for Al Davis, he's in man. He's pressing," Asomugha told me after Thursday's practice. And Dominique, even, in Arizona, was doing that. So when you get two guys that did that a lot, you want to keep that going. Now, there are still a lot of zone concepts. He's still got me going inside a lot in dimes and in some nickels. But it's a different feel than it was last year. Last year, going into it, it was completely new. This year, going into it, I've got that fire that I was in last year under my belt. So the learning curve isn't steep at all."
Part of the issue last year was that Asante Samuel was still a part of the Eagles' cornerback corps and still a starter. Samuel is not a man-press corner, and so schemes had to be adjusted to account for that. And he was starting on the outside, so Rodgers-Cromartie had to work inside or ride the bench. The Eagles traded Samuel to the Falcons to make room on their payroll as well as in their defensive backfield for the things they were planning to do in 2012. The Eagles people with whom I spoke this week at camp all seem to believe Samuel will have a very good year in Atlanta. They just didn't think he fit in Philadelphia anymore.
Now, it's Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie at the cornerback spots, and many eyes will be on them as the defense looks to improve over last year's early-season struggles. A happy Asomugha should help with that, though he disputes the notion that he was unhappy playing so much zone in 2011.
"I wasn't unhappy with it at all," Asomugha said. "If Juan sees something and wants me to be in there and he wants to maximize my potential and not just keep me on the outside, I'm with him 100 percent. So I definitely wasn't unhappy with it. It was just, there isn't a comfort level when you don't know what you're doing. I think confidence comes from knowing exactly what you're doing and being the best at that."
The Eagles signed Asomugha to be the best corner in the league. And the expectations for him in 2012 are that he will play to that level. It's all set up for him to show why he was worth all of that fuss last July.