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Atogwe steps up as a takeaway artist for the Rams

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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
    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
      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?!
      sigpic :ram::helmet:


      • #4
        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.


        Related Topics


        • RamWraith
          Atogwe hopes to remain with Rams
          by RamWraith
          Third-year free safety topped NFC with eight interceptions
          BY STEVE KORTE

          ST. LOUIS --After leading the NFC in interceptions this season, St. Louis Rams free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe will be one of the more attractive restricted free agents this spring.

          The Rams will retain matching rights to an any offer Atogwe receives. They'll also receive compensation in the form of draft picks from any team signing Atogwe depending on what level of one-year tender offer they make to him.

          The Rams would be wise to tender Atogwe at a first-round level to dissuade teams from pursuing him.

          "I don't even worry about all of that," Atogwe said of being a restricted free agent. "My job is to come out here and work hard and play, and that all takes care of itself. It's not even a concern of mine."

          Asked whether he wanted to remain with the Rams, Atogwe said: "I definitely enjoy being here. I don't know what my future holds. I'm just going to continue to count my blessings and see what happens."

          Atogwe said the Rams' 3-13 season didn't dampen his desire to return to the team.

          "It's not like we were a 3-13 team with guys who didn't like each other or guys who just didn't care about their jobs," Atogwe said. "There wasn't that feeling at all. We just had some bad breaks, and we didn't capitalize on some opportunities we had.

          "It's not a situation where we have a bunch of losers in the locker room. I'd love to come back here."

          Atogwe picked off his eighth pass of the season in the Rams' 48-19 season-ending loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

          Atogwe returned the interception 52 yards late in the third quarter for his first NFL touchdown.

          "I wasn't really able to enjoy it because I was feeling so bad, but I hadn't had a pick six since maybe high school," Atogwe said. "It's definitely a long time coming and something I'll cherish."

          Atogwe played against the Cardinals despite battling a stomach virus.

          "It was never a situation where I wasn't going to play," Atogwe said. "It was just how much could I take, how much could I get through. I was throwing up all day, all morning. The team needed me, and I'm just here to serve."

          Atogwe's eight interceptions ranked second in the NFL behind the 10 grabbed by San Diego's Antonio Cromartie.

          It's also the most interceptions by a Rams player since Dexter McCleon had eight in 2000.

          "It's a great honor," Atogwe said of leading the NFC in interceptions. "There's a lot of great football players in the NFC and AFC. I'm truly blessed."

          Atogwe, a third-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft out of Stanford, said his personal accomplishments in his...
          -01-02-2008, 03:24 PM
        • RamWraith
          Atogwe Finds A Way For Big Plays
          by RamWraith
          By Nick Wagoner -- Story courtesy St. Louis Rams

          Thu, February 22, 2007

          OJ Atogwe played high school and OVFL community football in Windsor, Ontario before attending Stanford University and being drafted by the St. Louis Rams. He is now the Rams 'big play' defender.

          As Washington running back Ladell Betts burst into the secondary late in a Decmeber game, the Rams' playoff dreams seemed to be saddled on his back as Betts' No. 46 jersey began to vanish further and further down the field.

          The only thing standing between Betts and a likely game-winning touchdown was free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, who came from the side as Betts made an effort to secure the ball in his right arm.

          Atogwe grabbed Betts from the left side and swung his right arm around Betts' back. In a fluid, punching motion, Atogwe jarred the ball loose. Corey Chavous fell on the ball and the Rams went on to win. It was a huge play in a game full of huge plays, but should the Rams make the playoffs this weekend, it might be the play that saved the season.

          "He practices that, and we practice that with our secondary; punching the ball out and getting it out," coach Scott Linehan said. "O.J., he has a knack, has a feel for where the ball is. The fumble on Sunday, the guy actually...if you watch the tape, he had the ball locked away pretty good. He just had a perfect punch on it from behind, which is something we teach. But you've got to go execute it. He's got a knack for that and hopefully we get many, many more."

          The thought of Atogwe making such an important play in such a significant game would have seemed almost silly a year ago. After the Rams took Atogwe in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, he spent most of last season on the bench.

          Because of NFL rules that don't allow rookies to join their teams until their final semester of school ends, Atogwe found himself behind the curve because of Stanford's late graduation.

          Atogwe's rookie season essentially amounted to nothing more than a redshirt year. He played in 13 games, but most were on special teams. He had an important sack in a comeback win against Houston.

          It wasn't until the final week of the season against Dallas that Atogwe got his chance to shine. He took full advantage of the opportunity, coming up with a fumble recovery and an interception in the season finale.

          That game turned out to be just a glimpse into Atogwe's propensity for being around the ball.

          "You come to realize you can get the ball out in the secondary because people don't secure it as much as you think they would or should," Atogwe said. "I didn't have too much game experience. Practice helps tremendously but there is nothing like playing in the game. Every game I went into I see something new or something I hadn't seen....
          -02-23-2007, 05:03 AM
        • RamWraith
          Atogwe quickly puts struggles behind him
          by RamWraith
          By Bill Coats
          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...
          -09-16-2007, 08:06 AM
        • RamWraith
          Atogwe Returns to Practice
          by RamWraith
          By Nick Wagoner
          Senior Writer

          It’s been a long, frustrating wait with plenty of starts and stops but free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe finally returned to the practice field on Monday.

          Atogwe has been out of action because of a hamstring injury since the opening days of camp. Aside from a one-day return, Atogwe has not been on the practice field since.

          “You kind of forget the veteran presence that he brings to the back end,” coach Scott Linehan said. “He really has been, obviously, coming on the last couple years for us at safety and I’ve said it all along, he’s been one of our most improved ascending young players we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve kind of missed that here this camp and I think he looked pretty sharp.”

          The return of Atogwe is only more good news for a defense that has been particularly effective in the past two weeks.

          The Rams are taking an approach similar to the one they are using with running back Steven Jackson in order to get Atogwe back up to speed. Atogwe won’t be staying late for a form of simulated workouts but he did take extra repetitions with the second and third defense after working with the starting group.

          “It’s a trying situation whenever you are being prevented from doing something you want to do,” Atogwe said. “It’s a little challenging but you learn stuff in that and come back stronger. I have been the No. 1 cheerleader on that sideline. The boys have been playing great, making a lot of plays, stopping a lot of guys, playing with a lot of mental toughness and a lot of energy and it’s just encouraging for me for when I do return to jump on board and just be a part of that.”

          Atogwe missed the team’s minicamp in May because of a hamstring issue. He believes that something didn’t heal right at that time and that’s why he played so little before hitting the sidelines again.

          Since he was unable to play, Atogwe has spent plenty of time working on the sidelines and riding the bike to keep his legs strong.

          “It was a little hamstring hiccup,” Atogwe said. “It’s probably a little left over from some scar tissues that didn’t quite go away like I wanted to but it just came back and crept up on me. It’s good to go now.”

          It remains to be seen whether Atogwe will play in the preseason finale against Kansas City. The Rams have only one more practice scheduled (tomorrow) before that game and two practices might not be enough to get Atogwe on the field.

          For his part, Atogwe says he’ll take any chance to get on the field and get re-acquainted with collisions.

          “That’s up to the coaches,” Atogwe said. “I love playing. If they want me to play this week I am going to go out there and play. If they don’t want me to play, I won’t play. Anytime I get the opportunity to play, I am going to play.”

          BENTLEY VISITS: Perhaps unsettled by an uncertain...
          -08-26-2008, 04:24 AM
        • r8rh8rmike
          Atogwe Injury Decision Awaits
          by r8rh8rmike
          Atogwe Injury Decision Awaits
          Monday, December 7, 2009

          By Nick Wagoner
          Senior Writer

          Laying in front of the near 62,000 fans at Soldier Field on Sunday, Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe wanted to waste no time in getting his moments before dislocated shoulder popped back into place.

          So Atogwe asked the Rams medical staff to pop that right shoulder back where it belongs right on the field only minutes after he suffered the injury on the final play of the half.

          “Where else would you want to have it?” Atogwe said, laughing. “If they did it wrong, I’ve got all these witnesses. It was fine. It wasn’t that bad as far as the pain, I just wanted to get it back in as soon as possible. They did a great job.”

          What the assembled medical staff couldn’t tell him at that moment was the extent of the injury though Atogwe had a suspicion of the implications that come with a dislocated shoulder.

          Atogwe had his MRI on Monday morning, the results of which revealed a labral tear in his right shoulder and a small amount of cartilage damage. It’s the type of injury a player can play through but will require surgery at some point.

          The question now becomes whether Atogwe will have that surgery right away or if he will try to grit out the final four games with a harness on and the eminent possibility that the shoulder could pop in and out of place for the rest of the season.

          “We have still got a lot of discussions to be had,” Atogwe said. “I have to talk to some people and see how it feels the next few days. No decisions have been made just yet. I am going to be very prayerful about it and do what’s best for the team as well as my own future career.”

          Atogwe has only had shoulder issues – an injury common to safeties it seems – a few years ago but that was a partial tear of the rotator cuff in the same shoulder and is unrelated.

          Before speaking with the press Monday, Atogwe spoke with coach Steve Spagnuolo and will also have a few more discussions in the coming days before he makes a decision on what to do for the rest of the season.

          Opting for surgery now would not allow for enough recovery time and his 2009 season would end four games early. Should he opt to try to play, the question then becomes whether Atogwe can play at his usual, ball hawking level.

          “That’s something I will talk to my agent about,” Atogwe said. “The staff here has been fabulous. I will call my agent and see what he says and get some of his advice and input and then from there decide whether we want to take it to another specialist to get a second opinion or just go with what our doctor said but they did a good job in this case.”

          Prior to the injury, Atogwe was up to his usual tricks, causing a fumble and recovering it on one of the opening plays of the game and forcing another fumble...
          -12-08-2009, 12:42 PM