Atogwe eager to prove his prime hasn't passed
O.J. Atogwe knows how it looks from the outside.
The interception numbers have gone down. The Redskins gave up on him after just one year. He’s been banged up. He’s now with his third team in three years. He’s in his early 30s. For the first time since 2005, he’s not even a projected starter.
It looks like a career on the decline.
“I understand if people want to think that,” Atogwe said. “Everybody’s entitled to their opinions. I know what’s true. I know what’s real.”
Atogwe was among the NFL’s most productive safeties with the Rams from 2006 through 2010 before a disappointing 2011 with the Redskins.
On Thursday, two months after the Redskins released him one year into a five-year big-money contract, Atogwe signed a one-year deal with the Eagles. On Friday, he said he’s not a player in decline but still at the peak of his career.
“Internally, I know I’m a better player than I was last year, a better player than I was in my time in St. Louis,” Atogwe said in a conference call. “Truth proves itself once it’s seen. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anyone. My focus is always on doing what I know I’m capable of doing and everything else takes care of itself.”
At his best, Atogwe was a true ballhawk. From 2006 through 2008, his first three years as an NFL starter, he forced 27 turnovers -- 11 forced fumbles, 16 interceptions -- and also was credited with 27 knockdowns.
Overall, in seven NFL seasons, he has 25 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles and 48 knockdowns. His 25 interceptions since he entered the NFL in 2005 are second-most among all NFL safeties, behind only Ed Reed.
But he turns 31 on Saturday, he missed three games and parts of several others with foot and knee injuries last year, and he starts out here as a backup to Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman.
That’s fine, said Atogwe, who said his first name -- Oshiomogho -- means “Only God knows tomorrow.”
He knows his role and said he’s actually looking forward to going into training camp competing for a starting spot instead of having one guaranteed.
“It’s definitely a situation that I’m excited about, because I haven’t been in this position since the second year of my career,” he said. “But it’s definitely one I look forward to because it’s challenging, and I believe it will bring the best out of me, and at the end of the day, whatever will happen will be what’s best for the Philadelphia Eagles, and that’s what I’m looking forward to. ...
“I’m here to serve. Whatever capacity, whether it’s playing, whether it’s helping the young guys, whether it’s running down on kickoff, it’s helping this team win. My role will be defined by how well I learn the defense and what the coaches feel is best for the team.”
As mentioned, the Redskins released Atogwe a year into a five-year, $26 million deal that included a $7 million bonus.
He said the parting was amicable, but he clearly was another failed Redskins big-money free agent.
“I was banged up last year,” he said. “I had a few nick-nacks that didn’t allow me to play as well as I’d like to, and the organization decided to go in another direction. I’m past that now, looking forward to this next season. I feel great now. I’m 100 percent.”
But Atogwe missed all the off-season workouts, all the minicamps and OTAs, and he has just about a month before training camp starts.
He’s definitely starting out behind.
“Me just being a passionate guy and loving football, it was difficult not being on a team this off-season, not enjoying the off-season experience with my teammates,” he said.
“It was hard for me, but situation I was in, it was the best thing, so it was something I had to do. ... I’ve been ready to play football for some time now [but] everything had to be right.”
Atogwe worked out for the Eagles and had a physical a couple weeks ago and spent some time getting to know defensive backs coaches Mike Zordich and Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.
When both sides were comfortable that it was a good fit, he became an Eagle.
“We kind of felt each other out for a week or two,” he said. “I enjoyed my time, enjoyed meeting the coaching staff, meeting the general manager [Howie Roseman], just really getting a feel for the situation I’d be going into.
“I already knew pretty much playing against them last year the type of team I’d be getting myself involved with, but it was important to meet the coaches and front office so I’d know exactly the type of organization I was going to join. Once we got through the workout they liked what they saw and I liked what I saw, and it just made sense.”E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org