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  1. #1
    RamWraith's Avatar
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    Atogwe steps up as a takeaway artist for the Rams

    By Jim Thomas

    Oshiomogho Atogwe's nickname is "O.J.," but an update may be necessary. Something along the lines of "O.J., the Human Takeaway" may be more appropriate.

    Atogwe got off to a slow start this season because of a hamstring injury that sidelined him for most of training camp and the preseason. But beginning with an interception against Buffalo in Game 4, Atogwe has been a takeaway waiting to happen.

    In seven of the past 10 games, Atogwe has been responsible for at least one takeaway, either in the form of an interception, a fumble recovery, or a forced fumble recovered by a Rams teammate.

    "O.J.'s a heck of a football player," coach Jim Haslett said recently. "I think people are starting to recognize that. The guy's a ball magnet. He does a great job punching the balls out."

    Say what you will about the Rams' struggling defense, it's hard to argue with Atogwe's numbers. In 13 games this season, the Rams have 17 takeaways. Atogwe has been responsible for 10 of them.

    He has four interceptions, recovered two fumbles, and four of his forced fumbles have been recovered by teammates. Atogwe returned one of those recovered fumbles 75 yards for a key touchdown in the Rams' 19-17 victory over Washington.

    "My mother told me a long time ago: 'Everybody has their time,' " Rams cornerback Jonathan Wade said. "Whatever you're doing, you have a time that's your time. You wonder how Ed Reed will end up year after year with eight, nine interceptions? How Ray Lewis has 100-something tackles?

    "There's no way to explain it, I don't think. It's just his time. He's very focused; very anointed by God right now."

    Atogwe didn't seem all that "anointed" coming out of Stanford in 2005.

    "When he first got here, he didn't have the best ball skills," Haslett said. "He worked on it and worked on it."

    Atogwe made it a point and still does to come in on Tuesdays, the players' normal day off during the regular sesason, and work on those ball skills.

    "It was one of the weaknesses that I felt I had that I wasn't making a lot of plays as far as interceptions on the ball," Atogwe said.

    On Tuesdays, equipment assistant Matt Taylor operates a JUGS machine that spits out football after football Atogwe's way.

    "He'll do anywhere between 200 and 300 balls, and I'll just catch them," Atogwe said. "He shoots them to me from all different angles."

    Slowly but surely, Atogwe's hand-eye coordination improved, and so did his interception totals. After recording just one interception in limited playing time as a rookie, Atogwe picked off three passes in 2006, his first season as a starter. Last season, he led the NFC and was second in the NFL, with eight interceptions.

    "Catching the ball, more so than having good hands, is just being relaxed and comfortable in the moment the ball's coming to you," Atogwe said. "So the more you catch balls, you get used to the feeling of just relaxing, catching the ball."

    Learning how to strip opposing ballcarriers of the football was a more difficult skill to master. In fact, Atogwe definitely learned this lesson the hard way. During a 2006 game at San Diego, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson applied a stiff-arm so ferociously to the attempted tackle by Atogwe that he knocked Atogwe's helmet off.

    There was a picture of the play in the newspaper the next day, and sure enough, Atogwe took plenty of ribbing from his teammates. But as a result of that play, Atogwe altered the way he deals with stiff-arms.

    "Whenever they're trying to stiff-arm you, you can either go low or you've got to knock his arm down," Atogwe said. "My forte is to try to knock the arm down and wrap up and make a tackle."

    And that's helped him perfect his technique for knocking the football out.

    "I've been fortunate to be able to reach around and punch the ball out," he said. "I think it's been successful for me, so I think I'm going to stay with it."

    Why shouldn't he? The techniques are still working. All told, Atogwe has forced seven fumbles this season. He forced five in '06, and two more in '07.

    By now, opponents are aware of Atogwe's ball-stripping acumen.

    "But all it takes is one moment of lapse, and then it can happen to anybody," Atogwe said. "It's not anything spectacular, it's just being focused in the moment."

    It's at those moments that Atogwe's Incredible Hulk persona comes out.

    "I'm a big Incredible Hulk fan," Atogwe said. "I collect comic books; I have been since I was about 8. The Incredible Hulk's probably one of my favorites, so I just put a bunch of them in my locker. It's just kind of synonymous with the way I play the game."

    Low-key and conscientious Bruce Banner off the field; Incredible Hulk on it.

    Atogwe has about a dozen Incredible Hulk action figures in his locker stall at Rams Park. He says he owns between 2,000-3,000 Hulk figures overall.

    Which is even higher than his collection of takeaways.

  2. #2
    shower beers's Avatar
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    Re: Atogwe steps up as a takeaway artist for the Rams

    between 2,000 and 3,000 Hulk Figures?! That's crazy!

    Definitely not a guy here just to collect a paycheck. Except maybe for more Hulk figures.

  3. #3
    laram0's Avatar
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    Re: Atogwe steps up as a takeaway artist for the Rams

    The extra work is paying big dividends for O.J.. Maybe the rest of the team should read this article?!

  4. #4
    eldfan's Avatar
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    Re: Atogwe steps up as a takeaway artist for the Rams

    I hope we can get him re-sign I don't think he was happy with the rams not getting a deal done by the start of the season.

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