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April 2, 2013
In Harbaugh he trusts: Asomugha has background with 49ers coach

nnamdi.jpg

If Nnamdi Asomugha joined the 49ers, the cornerback is confident Jim Harbaugh and his staff would utilize his strengths and put him in a position to succeed.

This, according to Asomugha's good friend, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, who was on the same Raiders team as Asomugha and then assistant coach Harbaugh a decade ago. Even though Harbaugh coached offense at the time, Gbaja-Biamila said he was accessible to all players and that he struck up a good relationship with him and Asomugha.

"I know one thing is true - he can connect to players," said Gbaja-Biamila, who now works for the NFL Network. "Not every player may like his style, but I think you respect the fact that he's a former player and he gets it. He's not one of those guys who will have one of those coaching egos, saying, 'This is my way.' Players fit like puzzles, and I think he would know how to use Nnamdi like a puzzle piece, just to be the perfect fit. ... I think Nnamdi was just out of place in Philly."

Now a free agent, Asomugha currently has two offers - from San Francisco and New Orleans. He has been mulling them for more than two weeks. His decision appears to be this: Return to the Bay Area on a 49ers team that has an excellent shot at a Super Bowl but that doesn't have an opening already carved out for him, Or) Play for ex-Raiders coach Rob Ryan in New Orleans.

Either way, Asomugha, 31, is sure to play more press coverage - his obvious strength - than he did the last two years in Philadelphia.

"Nnamdi has the physical tools - he's built for press corner," Gbaja-Biamila said. "If you drew the perfect press corner, he'd look like Nnamdi. He's got long arms, he's got speed. He ran a 4.4 (-second 40-yard dash) at the combine, he's smart - all those things fit in well."

Two weeks ago, Gbaja Biamila reported via twitter that the 49ers were in "serious discussion" with both Asomugha and Charles Woodson, another former Raiders teammate who remains a free agent. He was more circumspect during a phone interview with The Bee because he said he didn't want to affect his friend's leverage. Asked when he thought Asomugha might sign with a team, Gbaja-Biamila said, "You know, I'm going to stay away from that one."

If Asomugha chose the 49ers, he would not be arriving as a star. He'd likely have to compete with Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Chris Culliver and others for playing time. His salary probably would be minimal. How would Asomugha, who was the NFL's marquee free agent just two years ago, deal with that situation?

Said Gbaja-Biamila: "I'll say this about Nnamdi: Nnamdi is a competitor, Nnamdi, I think, is an elite corner. And I think his performance and his ability would speak for itself."

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Side note: Gbaja-Biamila said both he and Asomugha had a fondness for Harbaugh when the three were in Oakland in 2003. He said they would spend time in Harbaugh's very modest coaching office - "It was a like a shack," Gbaja-Biamila said - after practices. But he also, with a laugh, said he didn't recognize Harbaugh on television sometimes.

"He can be a little socially awkward whenever I watch him on camera," he said. "I sometimes think he's putting on a show. I'm like, 'That is not Jim Harbaugh.' He's just a little socially awkward to make it uncomfortable for the media. ... That's on purpose. I can tell you that for a fact - that's on purpose."

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I'll be chatting about this topic and any others you want to discuss (Cyprus bank crisis?) at 11 a.m. Log onto www.sacbee.com/live to join in.

- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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