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10 Minutes With O.J. Atogwe

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  • 10 Minutes With O.J. Atogwe

    By Ed Thompson
    Scout.com Senior NFL Analyst
    Posted Sep 11, 2009

    Despite numbers that rival those of Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed over the past three years, Oshiomogho Atogwe has flown under the radar a bit while deserving Pro Bowl recognition. Scout.com's Ed Thompson caught up with the talented Rams player as he prepared for the team's season opener at Seattle.

    During his four seasons in the NFL, including the last three as a starter, Rams safety Oshiomogo "O.J." Atogwe has watched the Seattle Seahawks run up eight consecutive wins over the St. Louis Rams. And they'll be hosting the talented defensive back and the Rams this weekend as the NFL kicks off the 2009 season.

    Atogwe has certainly done his part to help the Rams be successful. After an attention-getting college career at Stanford, he's started 48 consecutive games over the past three seasons, putting up startling numbers that make you wonder how he's been overlooked for Pro Bowl recognition--especially over the past two seasons.

    To put the 28-year-old player's achievements in perspective, all you have to do is compare his numbers over the past three seasons with a man that few would dispute is one of the most respected safeties in the NFL--Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens.

    Like Atogwe, Reed hasn't missed a start over the past three seasons. According to the NFL's statistics, the Ravens safety has intercepted 21 passes and recovered four fumbles for a total of 25 turnovers. He's also defensed an impressive 54 passes.

    Meanwhile, Atogwe put up big numbers of his own with 40 passes defensed, 16 interceptions and five fumble recoveries. His 21 turnovers during the past three years are just four off Reed's pace, or roughly one per season.

    But get this--the Rams defender has forced 11 fumbles versus just two by Reed during that stretch. And he's logged 232 tackles, including a career-best 85 last year, versus just 139 by Reed. That's a difference of nine forced fumbles and 93 tackles.

    Bottom line? Based on the past three seasons, Atogwe definitely belongs in the same breath as Reed when people discuss the top safeties in the NFL.

    I caught up with O.J. this week for an exclusive interview. The humble and friendly man talked about his career, his teammates, the Seattle Seahawks, and a fresh start for the Rams under new head coach Steve Spagnuolo.


    Ed Thompson: During the offseason, the team put the franchise tag on you. That’s a tremendous acknowledgement by the Rams and your new head coach of the contributions you've made and how much they value you as a player.

    Oshiomogo Atogwe: I agree with that. Not too many players get dubbed the franchise player in their career, so when the St. Louis Rams named me as their franchise player, I took it as an honor, especially with having the coaching change and pretty much the front office change. With the Rams going in a new direction, to feel that they wanted me to be a part of that new direction was humbling, and I felt very appreciated.

    Thompson: You forced 11 fumbles over the past 3 years. If you were to talk to some younger players and tried to give them some tips on what they need to do to have that kind of success in forcing fumbles, what would you say?

    Atogwe: I would just tell them it’s a mindset. Anytime you're able to get around the football, you have a chance to have an impact on that play. Football is all about who has the ball and how do you get it from them. Turnovers are big in our game. I think you have to go in to the tackle thinking there's a possibility you can get the ball out--either the running back isn’t holding the ball very strongly or the receivers are loose with the ball. It’s just something you have to constantly think about. And when you're making the tackle, make an attempt to knock the ball loose.

    Thompson: Let’s talk about interceptions, because you've had 16 over the past three seasons. I’ve talked to lots of safeties and cornerbacks about their approach to their positions. Some guys will say it’s their breaking ability on the ball, others will say it’s their game-film study, others talk about how well they're able to anticipate the quarterback. What 's helped you be so successful?

    Atogwe: Truthfully, I believe that interceptions come from great team defense. We play against tremendous quarterbacks in this league, guys who are able to put the ball--with pinpoint accuracy--to a moving target, a stationary target, short, deep. It’s hard to get a bead on these quarterbacks we’re playing against. The only thing that really affects their ability to throw the ball is the type of looks you give on defense to confuse them, or the pass rusher getting up front, or the blitzes you are sending to rattle what they’ve been working on day-in and day-out, which leaves them susceptible to throwing an errant ball, which I've been blessed to pick off during my career.

    Thompson: O.J. let’s talk about this Rams team and what you think people are going to notice about them versus last year’s club when you guys go out there for your opener this weekend.

    Atogwe: I believe they'll see a more confident team, a team that believes in themselves, believes in the hard work, dedication, and preparation they’ve put in thus far. That's going to translate into us playing with a lot more energy, a lot more passion. We really believe that we’re capable of winning the game, that we’re capable of being a good team in this league. I know that will be different from what they’ve seen in the past--by the way we play, by our style of play.

    Thompson: What are the biggest changes under Steve Spagnuolo for the defensive players either in terms of your scheme, the way you approach practice or the game-planning?

    Atogwe: I'd say all of the above. Coach Spagnuolo is really big on details, the finer points of each defense, the finer points of each of the linemen, the assignment, the technique. That carries over into how he coaches and essentially how we play defense. When you look around this league, there is a lot of parity, and you can beat any team on any given day. It’s the team that makes the fewest mistakes, that is most accurate in the details of their assignments that normally gets the win.

    Thompson: I've got to believe that after training camp and your preseason, your juices have to be flowing a little bit as you prepare for that season opener at Seattle--especially since they hold an eight-game winning streak over the Rams. And that means you’ve never had an opportunity to help give them a loss, right?


    Atogwe: That is correct. We’re all very excited. December 28th is a long way away, which is the last regular season game. Preseason was fun, it allowed us to work out some of our kinks and polish what we had been doing. But now it’s time to get back to business because regular season is here, which you worked so hard for all those many months ago. Everybody is excited and ready to go.

    Thompson: I can tell that you love this game. What is it that gets you excited about waking up every day, working out and getting ready for another football season?

    Atogwe: I’m just very thankful and grateful for the blessings that I’ve been given. God blessed me with the talent, work ethic, and the ability to play this game. It’s just a pure joy to be able to do something that you truly have been blessed to do and enjoy doing. And while I’m doing it, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, put forth my best effort.

    Thompson: Give us some insight on one of your rookie teammates, linebacker James Laurinaitis. I had an opportunity to interview him before the draft, and he's a special guy who lives and breathes this game as well.

    Atogwe: That is correct. James is a great kid, a great young man, a very high-character guy who also loves football. It’s not just in talk, but in action and preparation and how he commits himself to the game. He came in studying extra hard to try to learn the defense as fast as possible so that by Week One he would be ready at a level that was equal to the teammates that he would be playing with. I think that’s what makes him special--he really cares, really believes in himself and believes in the guys he is playing with.

    Thompson: Marc Bulger returned to practice this week. Talk about what that means to your ball club as you prepare to head to Seattle this weekend for a big divisional matchup.

    Atogwe: Marc Bulger is our quarterback. Kyle Boller did a phenomenal job during the preseason keeping the offense going, and I know Marc's very appreciative of that. We're excited to see Marc go out there and return to form after some rough years--they weren’t very telling of how good of a quarterback he still is. I know he’s going to go out there and show people just how capable and how talented he can still be in this league.

    Thompson: Let’s talk about the other quarterback in this matchup. Matt Hasselbeck is healthy after missing more than half of the 2008 season with injuries. His return to the starting lineup is a huge boost for them. You’ve worked against him quite a few times, so what makes him a tough quarterback to defend against?

    Atogwe: He's a very tough quarterback. He's very intelligent. He has been in this offensive system for so long, there’s not too much he doesn’t know about it, not too much he hasn’t seen. It’s really a chess match, so to speak, to try to rattle him and get in his mind, because he’s been doing it for so long at a high level. In my eyes, he's still a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. It’s tough, because he's going to be one step ahead of you, even when you think you're one step ahead of him. It’s a back-and-forth chess match.

    Thompson: O.J., any other thoughts on this weekend’s matchup, or the Rams in general, that you want to make sure the fans know about?

    Atogwe: I just thank them and encourage them to continue to support us. We are excited about this game. The Seahawks are a very talented team--great offense, great defense, a lot of playmakers on their defense. It’s going to be a great game and I'm excited to go out there and play.
    Always a Rams Fan............

    Rex Allen Markel

  • #2
    Re: 10 Minutes With O.J. Atogwe

    A top notch player and man to say the least

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: 10 Minutes With O.J. Atogwe

      Originally posted by ram3057 View Post
      By Ed Thompson
      Scout.com Senior NFL Analyst
      Posted Sep 11, 2009

      Despite numbers that rival those of Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed over the past three years, Oshiomogho Atogwe has flown under the radar a bit while deserving Pro Bowl recognition. Scout.com's Ed Thompson caught up with the talented Rams player as he prepared for the team's season opener at Seattle.
      I think the pro bowl recognition will come with a improve team record.
      :ramlogo:

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: 10 Minutes With O.J. Atogwe

        What a classy guy, the exact tipe of player you build a team around. I think we have a few more on our roster as well- C. Long, J. Lau, J. Smith and SJax all of theswe guys are a great nucleus of character IMO.

        Hopefully O.J. can force a couple of fumbles on Sunday. We're gonna need to play some hard nose D to walk out of there with the win on sunday.

        Go get them hawks boys....

        Comment

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        • 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 Finds A Way For Big Plays
          by RamWraith
          Thursday, December 28, 2006

          By Nick Wagoner
          Senior Writer

          As Washington running back Ladell Betts burst into the secondary late in Sunday’s 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. I was constantly learning. It was sort of midway, the second half of the season where things start to get more repetitive.”

          Things have started to settle in this season for Atogwe, who was basically handed the starting job at free safety in the offseason. He...
          -12-29-2006, 05:15 AM
        • RamWraith
          Atogwe steps up as a takeaway artist for the Rams
          by RamWraith
          By Jim Thomas
          ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
          12/11/2008

          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...
          -12-11-2008, 04:09 AM
        • RamsInfiniti
          Atogwe, a consummate pro ...
          by RamsInfiniti
          Here is an exceprt from an article concerning O.J. Seems like a real professional, just the type of pillar we need here ...



          Many NFL players shun the franchise tag like an infectious disease, but Rams free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said he’s glad to have that designation placed on him.

          “I think everything is a good thing,’’ Atogwe said. “It’s a blessing to come out here and play. And to be thought of as one of the top five at my position is an honor. I relish this.’’

          As the Rams’ franchise player, Atogwe is set to earn $6.342 million this season.

          Atogwe has yet to sign the franchise tender, but that didn’t keep him from attending the Rams’ involuntary minicamp this week.

          It’s extremely rare for franchise players who have yet to sign the tender to attend any offseason team activities.

          “I don’t have to be (here) contractually, but I feel like I’m obligated to be here for my teammates and for my coaches,’’ Atogwe said. “Going forward in this year, if I want to be a part of this team I want to be a part of this team from the beginning to the end and I think it’s important that we all put aside our own personal stuff and just really sacrifice for the team. Put the team first and allow us to come together as one unit so we can get a lot done this year.”

          Atogwe said he felt like it was important for him to be on hand for the Rams’ first minicamp under new coach Steve Spagnuolo.

          “It’s our first minicamp so it’s kind of the grace period where you kind of learn how they’re coaching and they learn how we work,’’ Atogwe said. “From a first impression standpoint, I think it’s going to be a great marriage. It’s going to be a great community that we’re building here. I think the coaches are really pulling for us and really trying to teach us in a manner that’s going to allow us to be successful on the field and we’re trying to work in a way that’s going to allow us to be successful on the field.”

          Atogwe also is trying to develop a bond with new strong safety James Butler, who came from the New York Giants to be reunited with Spagnuolo.

          “Me and James, our communication and just our rapport is already on high just from us being together for the last three weeks.,’’ Atogwe said. “And knowing James since we both came out in the ’05 Draft, we already have that camaraderie. I think as I continue to learn the defense — he’s a lot further ahead in the defense than I am — and we’re on the same page as far as what we know, it will just take off from there.”

          Asked if his agent has had any talks about a long-term contract with the Rams, Atogwe said, “I think there are talks in the wind. We haven’t really sat down recently to actually start working out the logistics or the specifics, but if it were to happen, then praise God. If it doesn’t, then praise God the same. I’m committed to this team. Like I said,...
          -04-03-2009, 06:08 PM
        • RamWraith
          Atogwe quickly puts struggles behind him
          by RamWraith
          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
          player."

          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
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