San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was asked whether Nnamdi Asomugha had moved ahead of Tramaine Brock in the competition to be the team’s third cornerback.
“After the game the other night, I believe so,” Fangio said.
But there’s a catch.
“Brock was nursing an injury prior to the third preseason game and the second preseason game, which allowed Nnamdi to move ahead. Now Nnamdi’s nursing a little injury right now. It’s a little bit unsettled because of the injury situation, more so than anything,” said Fangio.
Asomugha was wearing a black non-contact jersey during practice today, one of a few other newly black-jerseyed players along with Colin Kaepernick (the others were Jewel Hampton, Cam Johnson and Patrick Willis, who should be ready for Week 1 after undergoing surgery on his broken hand).
But what Fangio said still counts as a vote of confidence for Asomugha, particularly compared to the defensive coordinator’s comments earlier in camp. For those who don’t remember, Fangio made it sound like Asomugha was struggling to prove he had enough left to make the team — even in the wake of Chris Culliver’s season-ending knee injury.
From Aug. 2:
What have you been seeing from Nnamdi? Is the fact that you have him here does that kind of lessen the blow of losing Culliver?
“Well we didn’t really know what we were getting when we got Nnamdi. He’s had some good days out here and some days where you weren’t sure if he was going to still have it. I think we’re kind of in between with him right now. Hopefully he’ll be able to still have some gas left in his tank to go out there and play like he did prior to going to Philadelphia. So, I think the jury is still out there.”
Is some of that how a player’s used? Is there any part of that to it or do you just either have it or you don’t?
“I think there’s some of that. But, Nnamdi is at this stage too in his career where some guys start losing, their physical skills start to diminish. We just have to see if that’s entering into his picture too or not.”
Today Fangio was much more complimentary.
“Particularly the last two or three weeks, he’s played much better,” said Fangio, who sounded like a coach who has been convinced that Asomugha, 32, could handle Culliver’s old job.
“He’s still playing at a good enough level to be a major part of our defense,” Fangio said. ““If he’s the third corner, he’s going to get somewhere between, if you use the last two years as a barometer, between 50 and 65% of the snaps. That should be a good enough gauge.”
Asomugha was largely seen as a bust in Philadelphia, leaving the Eagles just two seasons into a five-year, $60 million contract with $25 million guaranteed. But so far in practice and in preseason games he has looked like the most physical corner on the roster, and he hasn’t allowed much in the way of receptions or yardage.
Asomugha is the top-rated defensive back on the team during the exhibition season according to Pro Football Focus, earning a score of 3.4 in 64 snaps. He has been targeted four times this preseason, allowing one reception for five yards. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 39.6 when targeting Asomugha in coverage.
By comparison, Brock has allowed four receptions for 31 yards on six targets, and opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 79.2.
This is not a large sample size, and production in practice factors into the 49ers’ decision just as much as what we’ve seen in the exhibition games, if not more. But if Asomugha’s injury is minor and he can go, it appears he’ll probably be on the field in nickel situations along with Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers in Week 1 — and against a team like the Green Bay Packers, Asomugha might play more than 50-65% of the snaps.