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|Through seven games, no team has thrown in Nnamdi Asomugha's direction more than twice.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
His name is Nnamdi Asomugha.
He is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
Yes, his name is difficult to pronounce. But it is more difficult to hear on a football field. That's because opponents rarely call his number.
They are too afraid.
Amid the circus atmosphere in Oakland that often keeps attention off the field, Asomugha's play is forcing attention back onto the field. He is having another remarkable year, following up a stellar 2007.
Boring, at times, but remarkable all the same. What is happening is that teams are avoiding Asomugha. They are avoiding him like they avoid drafting a cornerback with a 5.2 40-time. No one challenges Asomugha.
They figure it is just not worth it. Through Oakland's first seven games, Asomugha has been thrown at a dozen times. The ball has never been thrown in his direction more than twice a game.
"Why would teams throw at him?" asked Hall of Fame cornerback Willie Brown, who is now an assistant defensive backs coach with Oakland. "Something bad is likely going to happen if you throw it at Nnamdi. It's an ultimate compliment for a cornerback not to throw at him."
Teams are throwing on Oakland's defense, just not at Asomugha. Newly acquired cornerback DeAngelo Hall has been victimized at times for Oakland, which has the 19th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. But don't blame Asomugha. He just isn't getting any action.
Listening to opposing coaches, it doesn't sound like the Asomugha boycott will end anytime soon. It's doubtful that Atlanta rookie Matt Ryan will take on Asomugha on Sunday when the Falcons visit Oakland. Saints quarterback Drew Brees had his way against Oakland in a 34-3 New Orleans win on Oct. 12. But Asomugha was left alone. Read New Orleans coach Sean Payton's comment about Asomugha prior to that game and it's no surprise Asomugha was ignored by Brees.
"He's the best we have seen on film," Payton said. "He's long-armed, he's real good at bump-and-run coverage, he has good recoverability; he's tall, he has great ball skills and he's very intelligent. He would have been the most sought-after corner had he hit free agency."
Asomugha, 27, admits that he gets frustrated by the lack of action. He said he noticed last season that the word was out on him. Asomugha, Oakland's 2003 first-round pick out of nearby Cal, had eight interceptions in 2006. He had one last season, and he doesn't have any interceptions this season.
That's what happens when no one throws at you.
"It gets a little boring, a little lonely out there," said Asomugha, who presents himself more like a young professor than a shut-down corner. "You keep hoping that someone is going to challenge you."
Asomugha was particularly disappointed about his lack of action after the Raiders' 16-13 overtime win over the New York Jets. Surely, Asomugha reasoned, the great Brett Favre would come after him. Favre, after all, fears nothing. He's never met a cornerback he hasn't gunned on. Interceptions don't worry Favre, the NFL's all-time interception leader.
So what happened? Favre threw in Asomugha's direction twice.
"I really thought this was going to be the day," Asomugha said after the game. "I thought Brett was going to come after me like six or seven times."
Asomugha has taken the lack of passes coming his way as an opportunity to work on other parts of his game. He gets involved in the run support as much as possible. And he knows that his lack of action helps his team because it essentially shuts down half of the field.
"I talk to Willie [Brown] and Charles [Woodson, a former teammate now in Green Bay] about staying involved all the time," Asomugha said. "I'm still on the field. I can still have an impact even if they aren't going to throw at me."
Asomugha might get frustrated by his lack of passes thrown his way, but his coaches love his contributions on defense.
"It's the ultimate respect," Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan recently told reporters in Oakland.
Asomugha attempted to put a happy spin on it. He even tried to say he thinks opposing coaches and quarterbacks will challenge him soon, but he quickly reconsidered it.
"No," he smiled. "Probably not. It probably won't change."