SANTA CLARA — For Nnamdi Asomugha to crack the 49ers roster, he likely must show he's regained the press-coverage skills that once made him an elite cornerback. Saturday marked a key step in that pursuit, it being the first practice at training camp where players can put on pads and really get physical.
"It's definitely good for when you want to be aggressive, to have the pads back on," Asomugha said. "Until now, it's been just working on your feet and hands. Now the aggressive part starts."
The 49ers return all five of cornerbacks from last season's NFC-winning team, and although Asomugha brings 10 years of experience, he must show the top-notch form he developed his first eight seasons with the Raiders rather than his sub-par level the past two years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
So far, Asomugha is pleased with how he's integrated with what he calls a "really nice" scheme, one that offers a seemingly balanced mix of man and zone coverages.
"One of the big things I've been happy about it is my ability to make plays on the defense so far, from this spring into summer," said Asomugha, who stands to make $1.35 million if he makes the opening-day roster.
Just like his rookie year with the Raiders in 2003, the 49ers are coming off a Super Bowl defeat. Asomugha has never played on a playoff team, and he senses something special with the 49ers' upcoming encore.
"It's definitely a different culture," Asomugha said. "The whole environment is a lot more positive, a lot more upbeat, a lot more optimistic, and it's true optimism.
"All 32 teams think this is going to be the year they win the Super Bowl. It's coming from a real place, here. I've never been around that."