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Raiders' Asomugha unsatisfied with individual feats, wants team success

It took six years for the NFL spotlight to shine on Nnamdi Asomugha. When it finally did, the Oakland Raiders' cornerback discovered that "it can go a couple of different ways."

One way was Asomugha playing in his first Pro Bowl last season, after which he received a three-year contract worth up to $50 million, with $28.5 million guaranteed. Another way is what Asomugha often hears from opposing coaches, players and national media -- how amazing it is that he has been able to establish himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the game on one of the worst teams in the league.

"I don't appreciate it when I hear that," Asomugha said. "Are you supposed to be excited when someone says that? It's like someone saying, 'You're such a gifted person, and I love everything about you, but, boy, your family is the worst family that I've ever seen in my life.' That's a backhanded slap in the face.

"You're talking about being the best or one of the best at your position, yet you feel like you haven't done enough to get some wins. You can come out of games and (hear) people praising you, but you still lost. And then that thought always goes through your head: 'What else could I have done? What more could I have done?' It's a very interesting dynamic."

Since 2003, when Asomugha joined the team, the Raiders have a combined record of 24-72. During that stretch, they've had three 4-12 seasons and a 2-14 finish. Their best record in that time is 5-11, which they achieved twice (2004 and '08).

To find the essence of Asomugha's career, you need only look at the third game of the 2006 season, his fourth in the NFL. Asomugha made his first two interceptions as a pro, yet the Raiders still ended up losing to the Cleveland Browns, 24-21. It was one of Oakland's 14 losses that season, although Asomugha managed to finish it with a career-high eight interceptions.

"You don't know what emotion to pull from," he said.

Through six seasons of losing, Asomugha has noticed some disturbing trends. To him, the biggest is a general lack of maturity.

It's one thing for young players to make mistakes, and there have been plenty by the less-experienced members of the squad. But Asomugha has seen far too many blunders by players with enough experience to avoid them.

"We have to grow up," Asomugha said. "And when I say 'we,' I'm talking about the entire team. We have veterans in certain places, but a lot of times, we play like we've never been there before. There are times when we go out there and we have mental lapses that should never happen for veterans. And it's all a matter of growing up."

Asomugha expects every player on the team to do so, especially third-year quarterback JaMarcus Russell. Questions have been raised during the offseason about Russell's level of commitment to being in the best physical shape possible and to invest the time and effort necessary to enhance his grasp of the position and of the game. In late March, Raiders coach Tom Cable said Russell needed to accept the responsibility that goes with being an NFL quarterback, and that was mainly to understand that he needed to work harder and longer than everyone else on the team.

Only time will tell if the message got through to Russell. As if Russell's status as the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 draft doesn't do enough to elevate the stakes, he also will have veteran Jeff Garcia ready to slide into the starting job if he falters. And there are Russell's other teammates, who want to see whether he truly has what it takes to finally get the Raiders out of their malaise.

"There's a lot on JaMarcus' shoulders this year," Asomugha said. "No one knows what he does in his own time. You can only hope and pray that he's taking it as seriously as everyone else is taking it. In practice, you see him taking it seriously. When we're going into meetings, you see him taking it seriously.

Asomugha took your questions

Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha recently chatted with fans on and discussed his favorite hobbies and why he believes Kobe Bryant is better than Michael Jordan. **More ...**

"But there's a heavy load that's on his shoulders this year, and he can't carry it by himself. That's why you've always got to have guys that rally around him. That's what the other captains and I have been trying to teach the younger players."

Asomugha has occasionally expressed to Russell the importance of approaching his job with greater urgency. However, Asomugha doesn't believe in calling out anyone in front of other teammates. He has never responded to such an approach, and he doesn't believe it works well with anyone else. If Asomugha feels the need to have a candid discussion with a teammate, it's in private.

Besides, he doesn't believe that it is a player's job to prod another to perform better.

"It's going to take a certain push from people that are above us players," Asomugha said. "They need to feel like their position is threatened. They need to feel like they need to go out and perform. And that comes from a coach. That doesn't come from a player."

And it brings up another troubling trend that Asomugha has seen during his time with the Raiders -- an absence of continuity at head coach. Cable is Asomugha's fifth head coach. The others were Bill Callahan, Norv Turner, Art Shell and Lane Kiffin.

"That's not an easy thing to deal with," Asomugha said. "As much as people from the outside might just look in and think, 'You still have to go play football,' it's serious to go through that many changes from your leader. I think in any sort of business, there has to be consistency there for the ship to be sailing in the right direction. Otherwise, you'll start getting different ideas from different guys upon each year and it can confuse players. And it's happened. I've seen players get confused and not live up to their potential."

So far, Asomugha likes what he has seen from Cable.

Asomugha was impressed with how Cable handled himself after being named interim coach when Kiffin was fired four games into last season. Cable guided the Raiders to a 4-8 finish, winning the final two games against the Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"Of course, this is a brand new season. You throw all of (what happened last season) out and you look to this season," Asomugha said. "But I'm optimistic from what I've seen. On offense, it's good that JaMarcus is getting plays that he had last year. It's good that we didn't have to change again with the coach and make everything new."

The change Asomugha would like to see from the Raiders is more wins. That way, he could be much more comfortable in his newfound spotlight.

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