Atogwe leads Canadian charge

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

He is the best Canadian currently playing in the NFL and if you haven't heard of O.J. Atogwe it's only because he plays on one of the worst teams in the league.

But with a one-year contract worth $6.3 million U.S. and designation as the St. Louis Rams "franchise" player, Atogwe has emerged as one of the most dangerous defensive players in the game.

After a run in which he has 32 combined forced fumbles and interceptions since 2006, no defensive back has been more productive than Atogwe, a big reason the lowly Rams slapped the tag on him this off-season to guarantee he wouldn't drift off in free agency.

But true to his humble roots sewn while growing up in Windsor, Atogwe handled it like a man -- and a grateful one at that because the top-tier safety has been far more about substance than style.

"I believe to whom much is given, much is expected," Atogwe said of being tagged and thus delaying a lucrative long-term contract. "Each one of us comes out here to be great at our jobs. In our positions, we all want to reach the pinnacle. That comes with a lot of responsibility and behind that responsibility is a lot of work."

It would be difficult to feel sorry for a player "stuck" with a one-year deal like the one Atogwe just signed, but every year we hear griping from one star or another in the same situation. Rather than rue the day, Atogwe prefers to relish his good fortune, viewing it as a just reward for achieving his dream.

"I believe as I have been taught that having a reputation and good character is more than your wealth and your riches and chasing after money," Atogwe said.

While quiet off the field, Atogwe is a ball hawk on it, a rare bright light the past couple of seasons for a Rams team that has won a combined five games.

But with a new coach, former New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, Atogwe figures to be an impact player for years to come.

"Myself, I've set goals and things I want to achieve, but as always I believe they should be personal," Atogwe said of what his future holds. "It should be in your own heart what you want to accomplish during the season."

Making his charge

Though Atogwe has to be considered the most accomplished Canadian in the NFL, the biggest story from training camp may well have been the rapid development of former Western Ontario Mustang, Vaughn Martin.

Though he was selected by the Chargers in the fourth round of this year's entry draft, it was expected that the 6-foot-3, 328 pound defensive lineman would struggle to bridge the gap from the CIS -- where he dominated -- to playing in the best pro league in the world.

The Chargers drafted him as more of a long-term project, but after getting considerable playing time during the pre-season -- including starting for the first three quarters of a game against Seattle, Martin earned a spot on the 53-man roster.

"I was expected to have a bigger learning curve than everybody else, so any advantage I can get to shorten that curve is a good thing," Martin said recently. "There's a lot left to work on. What motivates me is that I have had success so I'm going to use that and hope it helps (the learning process.)"

Lean machine

While talking Canadians, let's not forget about another CIS product, Manitoba's Israel Idonije. About to enter his sixth season with the Chicago Bears, Idonije dropped 40 pounds in the off-season (now weighing in at 266) so that he can be shuffled between defensive tackle and end.

"It's always good to have added weight, but at the end of the day, you can negate all of that stuff with an explosive get-off and staying low," Idonije said. "It's fundamental football.

"I still feel strong. I feel good. It's not going to be easy to push me around.''

Nick of time

Brantford's Nick Kaczur returns to the spotlight in New England now that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is back in action. And the 30-year-old tackle has been rewarded for his past efforts blocking for the NFL's pre-eminent passer, recently signing a four-year contract extension which could pay him more than $16 million.

"Obviously, you only have so much time," the 30-year-old Kaczur told reporters after agreeing to the deal. "This isn't golf. You can't play that long."

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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