Asomugha expected to help 49ers defense
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - Nnamdi Asomugha expects the football to be in the air all the time Sunday, which is about how often he expects to be on the field in his debut with the San Francisco 49ers.
Asomugha was named as San Francisco's No. 3 cornerback this week, and the four-time All-Pro is prepared for extensive action when the 49ers begin the season against the prolific passing attack of the Green Bay Packers.
"They throw 99 percent of the time, so the ball will be up in the air a lot,'' Asomugha said Friday. "We'll definitely have some (defensive backs) on the field and some opportunities at the ball.''
The 49ers signed the 11th-year veteran earlier this year specifically to help in these kinds of situations.
San Francisco finished third in the NFL in total defense last season but the 49ers struggled defending the pass down the stretch and throughout the team's playoff run to the Super Bowl.
The revamped unit will get tested right away this season by the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw for 560 yards and four touchdowns in two games against the 49ers last season.
San Francisco will have a new starter at free safety in rookie Eric Reid, but the only other change in the team's primary rotation in the secondary is Asomugha taking over as the third cornerback behind starters Tarell Brown and Carlos Rogers.
The void was created when the 49ers lost Chris Culliver, the team's physical No. 3 corner last season, to a season-ending knee injury in August. But Asomugha asserted himself enough during the summer that he figured to have some role in coverage packages anyway.
"He'll be the No. 3 guy starting the game on Sunday,'' 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "We wouldn't go on matchups at this point, but that's the way we're thinking about it right now.''
Fangio said several times this summer that he wasn't sure if Asomugha still had the skills that made him one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks during his first eight seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Asomugha is coming off two subpar seasons in Philadelphia, where his reputation took a hit after he signed a five-year, $60 million deal with the Eagles as one of the NFL's top free agents of 2011.
But Asomugha had a solid preseason that pushed him ahead of holdover veteran Tramaine Brock, who was listed as San Francisco's third corner throughout the summer after Culliver tore the ACL in his left knee on Aug. 1.
Asomugha won't have to wait long to see what he's got left in his fresh start with the 49ers.
San Francisco used extra defensive backs on nearly 70 percent of its defensive plays last season, and that could increase against the Packers. Rodgers threw 83 passes (with 59 completions) in Green Bay's two losses to the 49ers last season.
That included San Francisco's 45-31 victory in the NFC divisional playoffs, beginning a postseason stretch during which Rodgers, Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Baltimore's Joe Flacco torched the Niners for 940 yards and eight touchdowns through the air.
San Francisco's defense was much better during the preseason. The 49ers allowed just 108.5 yards through the air and 205.8 overall in four exhibition games.
"We did a good job in the preseason, but the opening game is always the one that you want to start off on the right foot and I think everybody's excited about it,'' Asomugha said. "I'm just excited to be on the field. I know when I'm on the field, I have the chance to bring something to this team that helps them out.''
NOTES: Coach Jim Harbaugh was not pleased with the clarification he got from NFL officials regarding rules on hitting a quarterback in the read option, which the 49ers use regularly with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. "I think it's flawed and biased,'' Harbaugh said. . Kaepernick, defensive tackle Justin Smith and linebacker Patrick Willis were named San Francisco's season captains. Smith will repeat that role from last season and Willis and Kaepernick were selected by a vote of teammates. . Sunday's game will be the final season opener for the 49ers at Candlestick Park before they move to their new Santa Clara stadium next year.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org