INGLEWOOD (News4usonline) – Growing pains come and go for a rookie. There are ups as well as plenty of down moments. For Los Angeles Chargers rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. the learning curve to play football in the National Football League (NFL) has proven to be a steep challenge.
The bumps and bruises of an NFL training camp can either make or break a rookie, regardless what they accomplished at the collegiate level. Going through and enduring an NFL training camp is grown folks business. This is where rookies pay their dues and earn their keep.
In training camp, the playbook becomes a rookie best friend as they navigate the waters of NFL life. As the Chargers’ second pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Samuel has stumbled and thrived. What Chargers head coach Brandon Staley likes about Samuel is how the former Florida State star bounces back when he has a rough patch in the learning process of trying to become an elite defensive back.
“He’s capable of a lot. He’s capable of playing outside, inside,” Staley said about Samuel’s growth after a Aug. 4 training camp practice. “He has toughness. All of these guys that are rookies are experiencing a lot for the first time —when you have to defend a [WR] Keenan Allen or a [WR] Mike Williams, or you go against a [TE] Jared Cook, at times, outside or inside —you’re learning that game within the game.
“The thing about Asante, you don’t have to tell him twice a lot,” Staley added. “He’s shown that versatility that we value, those instincts —ball judgment, toughness, all of that that we really value in the draft process. He looks like he belongs out there. That’s important. He’s earning his way. We’re excited to see him as we keep going on.”
There have been some benefits to all the work Samuel has put into the grind of training camp. Samuel lined up as one of the starting cornerbacks for the Chargers in the team’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 14.
Much like the way he has practiced this summer, Samuel had some hits and misses during the game.
He got beat on a couple of plays by Rams rookie wide receiver Tutu Atwell. But he more than made up for those slip ups with a crunching hit on Atwell in the first quarter. The big hit by Samuel got Chargers safety Derwin James excited.
“You all are seeing it firsthand,” James said. “He came up and made a big hit. Like I told him, we’re going to feed off that energy and keep getting better every day. He has a bright future.”
Drafted with the 47th pick in the second round, Samuel came into the league with pedigree on his side. Samuel’s dad, Asante Samuel, played 11 seasons in the NFL and was a four-time Pro Bowl player.
Talk about something to prove. The younger Samuel has proven he belongs on every level he’s played on. After starring at Florida State as a top cover cornerback, Samuel is now in line to show off just how good he is on the professional level.
Going through his first training camp, Samuel’s ride has been a lot like a typical roller coaster: up and down. That was reflective in the Chargers’ open practice to the public at Sofi Stadium on Aug. 8. Samuel made some good plays, but he also got beat on several others.
“Asante had some good moments and he had some tough moments,” Staley said. “He got beat on that double cut outside. That’s part of playing in the NFL; how you bounce back from that. [S] Nas [Nasir Adderley] had a really good overlap. I think it would have been a big hit on the sideline. When that happens to you, how do you respond? In the NFL, the good quarterbacks are going to come right back at you. They’re going to keep testing you until you show up.
“I think that it was good for him to come back from that and keep playing,” Staley continued. “I think that he’s going to learn a lot from it. As we all talked here, you guys that are at practice every day, we have a lot of weapons outside. We have some real weapons outside that are going to test him — guys that are big, guys that are fast, guys that are experienced. I’m excited that he was able to get out there. I think he’ll learn a lot from this film.”
When the Chargers drafted Samuel, the team was not necessarily in the market for a cornerback. Even with the departure of Casey Hayward Jr., the Chargers, ranked No. 9 in passing defense a year ago, walked into the draft still with the services of Chris Harris Jr., Michael Davis, Brandon Facyson, and Tevaugh Campbell in the mix.
The Chargers grabbed Samuel because he was the best player available on the draft board, team general manger Tom Telesco said.
“Very excited that he was there,” Telesco remarked after the team drafted Samuel. “We weren’t necessarily drafting for need. He has such a great competitive spirit with how he plays and challenges receivers every down, both in the run game and pass game. Rally instinctive at both reading routes and finding the football. Extremely quick. He’ll fit in very well with our defensive back room. Very, very excited that we were able to select him right there.”
Now second on the Chargers’ depth chart behind Harris, Samuel looks like he has shown enough in his play for Staley and Chargers defensive coordinator to believe he has what it takes to be that guy.
“He’s really shown that he has the toughness,” Staley said. “He has the mindset, the competitiveness, to play out there. He’s shown the position flex. He knows our defense, so, mentally, it’s not going to be a challenge for him. Now, it’s just being able to go and physically do the job consistently, down in and down out.
“Then, what we have to understand is that he’s a rookie corner,” Staley added. “There are going to be tough moments. There are going to be tough moments for all of these guys. The only way he’s going to get better is by going back out there. Keep going back out there and keep learning. This past week, he’s had some really good days, then, today, there were some tough plays out there. Nothing catastrophic, just some tough plays, which is part of playing corner in the NFL.”
Featured Image Caption: Aug. 14, 2021. Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel (26) makes a big play against the Los Angeles Rams in a preseason game. The Chargers and Rams played their preseason opener at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline