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Atogwe quickly puts struggles behind him
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Sep. 16 2007
About halfway through the 2006 season, something clicked for Rams free safety
Oshiomogho "O.J." Atogwe.
Coach Scott Linehan surmised that an infusion of confidence shifted Atogwe
rather suddenly from an inconsistent performer to a solid defender. "He's a
very tough kid who didn't have a lot of experience," Linehan said. "As he went
though the ups and downs of the season, he really developed into a confident
But Atogwe said, "I've always had confidence in myself. It was just more of ...
relaxing and having the feeling that, 'OK, now you're here. You know what
you're going to get, you know what to expect. Now, just settle down.'"
A third-round draft pick (No. 66 overall) in 2005, Atogwe missed much of the
offseason training at Rams Park that year because his college, Stanford, is on
a quarters system and graduates its seniors later than most schools. NFL rules
limit a rookie's participation until classes are completed.
That put Atogwe behind from the get-go. "The rookies that were on semester
systems had the (spring workout) periods to get introduced and familiar with
the defense," he said, "whereas I'm coming into training camp where all the
bullets are flying, going through two-a-days, and trying to learn the defense
on top of that. It definitely was a tough situation."
Still, he caught up quickly and played in 12 games. He started all 16 games
last year, collecting 91 tackles (third on the team) and three interceptions.
But he committed some glaring errors early in the season that cost the Rams
dearly and had defensive coordinator Jim Haslett fuming.
"It was my first season starting, so I really didn't know what to expect from
the NFL," Atogwe said. "In the first half of the season, I was kind of up and
down. But I felt like after (that), I kind of found myself and the player that
I knew I could be."
Among others, Atogwe credits veteran Corey Chavous, the Rams' strong safety,
with aiding his development. Chavous played down his role, however.
"I give him occasional pointers and things to work on, but I think the best
thing I've done with O.J. is not do too much," Chavous said. "Any time you get
a guy that has a good feel for the game, understands the game, has poise about
himself in critical situations ... there's not a lot to say to him."
At 5-feet-11 and 210 pounds, Atogwe packs a wallop, as indicated by the
team-high six fumbles that he forced in 2006. But he also has the speed to stay
with wide receivers and the smarts — he earned a biology degree in the pre-med
program at Stanford — to make accurate reads from his "center field" spot.
"I always think of myself as the last line of defense," said Atogwe, 26. "With
that comes a lot of pressure, because if anyone gets behind you, it's likely
going to be a touchdown."
Atogwe had a team-high 10 tackles in the 27-13 loss to Carolina and was named
the Rams' defensive player of the week.
"When you play a young guy, you're going to have some issues early in the
season, like we did last year," Haslett said. "But O.J. has improved on his
ball skills, and that's the area he wasn't real savvy in early last year. He
gained that through playing, and I thought by the end of the year he was
playing extremely well. He just picked up from where he was last year."
Atogwe stressed that he's far from satisfied, though. "In the NFL, you never
really achieve it; you're always learning something new every day," he said.
"It's something that I'm growing into. It's a process."
His name is pronounced oh-SHIM-ago ut-TOG-way, and he explained that first name
means "only God knows tomorrow" in Nigeria's Bini dialect. His parents
emigrated in 1974 to Windsor, Ontario, where he grew up.
Off the field, Atogwe said he "loves to hang out with my teammates." He also
spends a lot of time reading — either the Bible, his playbook or his beloved
comic books. "I've been collecting comics since I was 9 years old," he said. He
estimated his collection at 2,000.
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