Asomugha ready for expanded role

Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha might have a different role under new first-year defensive coordinator John Marshall. Find out what that role will be and what else happened at the OTA workouts in S&BI Senior Writer Michael Wagaman's Raider Roundup.

Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha made a rare appearance at the Raiders' OTA practice Wednesday after sitting out last week's workouts, one of the few times during his career that the veteran defensive back has attended the voluntary workouts.

It's an important step in the eyes of head coach Tom Cable, who wants to his Pro Bowl cornerback take on an enhanced leadership role inside Oakland's locker room.

"Leadership's not defined by how much you make or how good you play on Sunday, it's what you do during the week and the offseason and how people see you and perceive you in terms of your preparation," Cable said after the Raiders concluded their Wednesday workout. "To me that's the next big thing for him, becoming a leader and a guy that people look at as the example all the time."

That's not the only new role for Asomugha.

Unlike in past seasons, when the Raiders were content to leave Asomugha on the right side – essentially closing off one half of the field – the plan heading into the 2009 season is to have him occasionally shadow opposing team's top receiver.

"We talked about that, me and (defensive backs coach Lionel Washington), whether it's shadowing or doing what we've done," Asomugha said. "We'll be open to mixing it up pretty much. It should be a different feel a little bit but it's (usually) going to be what we had last year and the years before."

Al Davis has rarely allowed his corners to shadow other receivers, preferring instead to keep his defensive backs on a specific side of the field.

Former Raider cornerback Charles Woodson seemed a natural to move around from side to side following opposing No. 1 receivers but the Raiders resisted the urge. It wasn't until later in his Oakland career, when then-defensive coordinator Rob Ryan utilized a 4-2-5 formation with Woodson essentially serving as a third safety – that the team allowed him to follow receivers around rather than staying put on one side.

Asomugha welcomes the changes but expects things to be similar to what they were in 2008 for Oakland's defense, even though Marshall's style of coaching is different from the outspoken, long-haired Ryan.

"It's definitely different," Asomugha said. "They are two completely different people. Rob is fired up all the time. John takes a back seat a lot of time and lets his other coaches do the entertaining. He's still a good coach. I like what he's doing now. Right now, we're still playing man. That's not going to change. But, as far as his philosophies and teaching the game, teaching us to play better as a unit, I like what he's doing."

Other highlights and news from Wednesday's workout:

X Running back Darren McFadden spent a lot of time in practice lining up as a wideout, another sign the Raiders plan to expand his workload. At one point, McFadden lined up near the right sideline while Michael Bush was the lone back in the backfield.

X Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who is battling a weight issue, jumped offsides twice during team drills. The first time, Kelly's penalty led to their first defense being called off the field.

DT Tommy Kelly jumped offsides twice in practice Wednesday.
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"Tommy's a good player, and as I talk to the defense every day, the one common thing they keep hearing from me is more discipline, more discipline," Cable said. "Staying onside, not giving up free yards, free plays, that kind of thing."

X Middle linebacker Ricky Brown has been very outspoken in practices and doesn't hesitate admonishing players when they've made mistakes. One defensive player lined up wrong during one play Wednesday and Brown yelled at him afterward.

While there is still some thought that Brown would be better at strong side linebacker, his attitude and demeanor are perfect for a middle linebacker and makes you wonder how come others on Oakland's defense aren't more outspoken.

Brown also made a nice play late in practice when he came sprinting in on a blitz and jumped up to bat a Bruce Gradkowski pass out of the air.

X Khaliff Barnes worked at left tackle with the starting offense but Mario Henderson remains the listed starter. Barnes spent most of his time with the second offense but took a few reps with the starters.

"That has nothing to do with anything," Cable cautioned. "It's just getting equal reps for everybody right now in the learning process. Read nothing into that, believe me."

X Running back Gary Russell has a long road to haul to crack the Raiders' top three on the depth chart but he's making sure not to be overlooked. Russell has been impressive throughout the offseason workouts and had a real nice run off right tackle during Wednesday's practice.

X Michael Huff took reps at free safety with Oakland's starting defense but that's not an indication the Raiders are moving the former first-round draft pick back into the lineup. Second-round draft pick Mike Mitchell, who is the likely starter, is unable to practice with the Raiders until his senior class graduates while Hiram Eugene – who has been the starter during the OTAs – sat out with a sore back.

Michael Huff was back with Oakland's starting defense but don't read too much into it.
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X QB JaMarcus Russell made several strong throws and looked good for the most part, though a few of his passes late in practice wobbled as they came out of his hands. Russell's best play came when he threw a rocket to tight end Zach Miller, putting the ball perfectly just past the outstretched hands of linebacker Jon Alston.

X Rookie wide receiver Louis Murphy continues to look good in the workouts. The third-round draft pick caught a pair of touchdown passes from Gradkowski, the second of which came in the right corner of the end zone over nickel back Stanford Routt.

X Fullback Oren O'Neal attended practice but did not participate in any of the drills. The team is hopeful that O'Neal, who is recovering from major knee surgery, will be ready when training camp opens in late July.

X Wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins pulled a double gaffe when he lined up on the wrong side of the field then, after being corrected, ran the wrong route which nearly led to an interception by linebacker Thomas Howard.

X First-round draft pick Darrius Heyward-Bey is back practicing for the first time since the May mini-camp. Heyward-Bey still looks tentative while running his routes and is hesitant to go all out, which was one of the knocks on him coming out of college.

During one play, DHB ran a ‘dig' route but didn't move once he turned around to face Russell, allowing cornerback Chris Johnson to come in from behind to knock the pass away.

"You have to sell that go route better," passing game coordinator Ted Tollner told Heyward-Bey emphatically.

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