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    Atogwe No Average Joe

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008
    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    During an average week, Rams free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is a normal guy, going about his business in a workmanlike manner and preparing for what is to come on Sundays.

    When that day arrives, Atogwe’s demeanor changes. Following in the footsteps of Bruce Banner, Atogwe likes to think he becomes his favorite superhero, The Incredible Hulk when the game starts.

    Atogwe’s performance in 2007 could merit comparisons to both of Bruce Banner’s personalities. At times, Atogwe was the superhero, saving games with late interceptions in clutch situations. At others, Atogwe was Banner, head down, doing all of the dirty work.

    USA Today honored Atogwe for his more straightforward persona Wednesday, naming him to its annual “All Joe” team.

    The All Joe team is named after defensive tackle Joe Phillips, who spent 14 seasons in the NFL with the Chiefs, Rams, Vikings and Chargers. Phillips’ blue-collar work as the nose tackle turned around an awful Kansas City run defense.

    From that day, he became the ambassador of anonymity and the general of grunt work. USA Today began coming up with a team to honor the players’ whose work has gone unnoticed.

    “He’s improved every day since I’ve been here, to be honest with you,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “He struggled the first half of the year last year. He started improving and improving. He has excellent ball skills. He’s kind of a magnet. He’s always trying to strip the ball out. He’s fast. He takes his job seriously. He is a great tackler in the open space. You see the range he has also. I still think he has a ways to go, but he’s getting better every day out there.”

    Atogwe’s play certainly flew under the radar in 2007. Quietly, Atogwe led the NFC in interceptions with eight. He finished the season on a high, grabbing an interception in the season finale against Arizona and returning it for a touchdown. It was the first touchdown of Atogwe’s young career.

    Despite his performance, Atogwe would have gladly given it back for more success as a team.

    “You’re happy that you’re playing well, but you’d always trade individual success for team success. There’s nothing like playing January and in February. That’s what you really remember when it’s all said and done.

    In addition, Atogwe had a penchant for coming up with big plays in key moments. His interception against San Francisco sealed a victory for the Rams and he made the interception against New Orleans that spurred the team to its first victory.

    But Atogwe’s performance in 2007 went far beyond grabbing interceptions. Atogwe ended the season with 96 tackles, eight passes defended, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

    In just three seasons, Atogwe has proved to be the type of player who always seems to be around the ball. After spending most of his rookie season on the sidelines and falling behind the learning curve because he missed most of the offseason program (Atogwe attended Stanford and wasn’t able to graduate until the school year ended), Atogwe emerged in 2006.

    In just his second season, Atogwe finished with 75 tackles, 10 passes defended, three interceptions and five forced fumbles. That momentum carried into 2007 as Atogwe indiscriminately made plays against legendary quarterbacks such as Brett Favre and lesser signal callers such as Trent Dilfer.

    And like any good superhero would, Atogwe even played through illness to record his first career touchdown.

    “It was exciting,” Atogwe said. “I wasn’t really able to enjoy it because I was feeling so bad. But I haven’t had a pick-six since maybe high school. So it was definitely a long time coming and something that I cherish.”

    Atogwe is due for restricted free agency this offseason and retaining him will be one of the Rams’ top priorities. The team will likely tender Atogwe at a first-round level meaning any team that wants to sign him to a long-term contract would have to forfeit a first-round choice should the Rams elect not to match the offer.

    “I don’t really worry about all that,” Atogwe said. “My job is to just come out here, work hard and play. That all takes care of itself. It’s not even a concern of mine. I’m definitely going to have a lot of input, and I’m going to be up on everything that I should be. But it’s not something that I worry about or stress about, because what’s going to happen is going to happen. I played well this year. I held up my end of the bargain I definitely enjoy being here. I don’t know what my future holds, so I’m just going to continue to count my blessings and see what happens.”

    Atogwe wasn’t the only Ram to land a spot on the All Joe team. Linebacker Will Witherspoon also earned a nod for his terrific season. Witherspoon was the team’s Most Valuable Player after racking up 136 tackles, seven sacks, 10 passes defended, eight quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.


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    Re: Atogwe No Average Joe

    I'm not entirely sold on Atogwe yet. Yes, he has some interceptions, but he also blows a lot of deep coverages. He's still young, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's still learning, but I'm not ready to start making his bust for Canton just yet...

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    Re: Atogwe No Average Joe

    Quote Originally Posted by moloch41 View Post
    I'm not entirely sold on Atogwe yet. Yes, he has some interceptions, but he also blows a lot of deep coverages. He's still young, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's still learning, but I'm not ready to start making his bust for Canton just yet...
    Atogwe is a free safety for a reason. From what I understand, he has good speed and is very agile. If he had GREAT coverage skills, he'd likely be a cornerback. He obviously does not, but he does have a very good package of skills. All safeties occasionally get beat in coverage, I don't care what caliber they are. It's the nature of the beast. Some good safeties aren't very good in coverage at all ...

    Regardless, he is a sound tackler, and he ability to process information and take good angles have improved magnitude over his three year career ...

    With that said, Atogwe had developed an ability to "sniff out" long pass routes. I can remember five of his picks this year that were on deep routes, passes that seemingly looked like they were about to be huge completions, only to be picked off at the last moment by OJ. He also had a game breaking pick against SF ...

    Atogwe is everything you want in a free safety. I only anticipate that he will get better and better ...

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    Re: Atogwe No Average Joe

    Quote Originally Posted by RamsInfiniti View Post
    Atogwe is a free safety for a reason. From what I understand, he has good speed and is very agile. If he had GREAT coverage skills, he'd likely be a cornerback. He obviously does not, but he does have a very good package of skills. All safeties occasionally get beat in coverage, I don't care what caliber they are. It's the nature of the beast. Some good safeties aren't very good in coverage at all ...

    Regardless, he is a sound tackler, and he ability to process information and take good angles have improved magnitude over his three year career ...

    With that said, Atogwe had developed an ability to "sniff out" long pass routes. I can remember five of his picks this year that were on deep routes, passes that seemingly looked like they were about to be huge completions, only to be picked off at the last moment by OJ. He also had a game breaking pick against SF ...

    Atogwe is everything you want in a free safety. I only anticipate that he will get better and better ...
    I did say that I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's still learning the position, but at this present moment, I don't think he's as far along as everyone seems to think he is. He has gotten better since his first season- there's no doubt about that, but I think he's got a ways to go before he should be considered among the top safeties in the league. A lot of those interceptions he had came at the end of the season, but he looked lost in the beginning of the year. I remember two of those interceptions coming in the same game on almost the exact same route. Both passes were thrown horribly inside because I don't think he would have gotten to them if they were thrown to the receivers outside shoulder. Our corner was beaten twice on that play, btw. Might have been Hill, but could have been Brown.

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    Re: Atogwe No Average Joe

    Quote Originally Posted by moloch41 View Post
    I did say that I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's still learning the position, but at this present moment, I don't think he's as far along as everyone seems to think he is. He has gotten better since his first season- there's no doubt about that, but I think he's got a ways to go before he should be considered among the top safeties in the league. A lot of those interceptions he had came at the end of the season, but he looked lost in the beginning of the year. I remember two of those interceptions coming in the same game on almost the exact same route. Both passes were thrown horribly inside because I don't think he would have gotten to them if they were thrown to the receivers outside shoulder. Our corner was beaten twice on that play, btw. Might have been Hill, but could have been Brown.
    Wow, a DB intercepting a poorly thrown pass? Isn't that why passes get intercepted?

    I think it would be nearly impossible to intercept a pass thrown to a receiver's outside shoulder ...

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    Re: Atogwe No Average Joe

    Quote Originally Posted by RamsInfiniti View Post
    Wow, a DB intercepting a poorly thrown pass? Isn't that why passes get intercepted?

    I think it would be nearly impossible to intercept a pass thrown to a receiver's outside shoulder ...
    Well, the point I was trying to make was that he wasn't in position to break it up if it was thrown correctly because he was late getting over and the corner was beat. The fact that the ball was so poorly thrown to the inside and the fact that he was late getting over was what put him in a position to pick those off- it wasn't due to any great play by him.

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