SANTA CLARA -- The pains and prosperity of the past matter only because they were part of the evolution of a man constantly evolving. Nnamdi Asomugha's life and career are in a new place, and he's still developing his script.

If Chapter One was his June 24 marriage to fashionable actress Kerry Washington, a ceremony cloaked in the privacy the couple prefers, Chapter Two is Asomugha's quest to reestablish himself as an elite cornerback in the NFL.

Ten years after Asomugha entered the league trying to prove he was worthy of being a No. 1 draft pick in Oakland, he's now trying to prove worthy of being on the roster of a Super Bowl contender in San Francisco.

The new chip on his shoulder is not the same as the old chip.

San Francisco 49ers Nnamdi Asomugha (24) runs on the field during practice at  training camp at 49ers training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday,
San Francisco 49ers Nnamdi Asomugha (24) runs on the field during practice at training camp at 49ers training facility in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2013. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group) ( Josie Lepe )

'The chip thing is there,'' Asomugha says, "but my mindset is so strong on being who I know I am, and who I've been. The work ethic is the same. I've always worked my butt off physically and mentally. But it's a different feeling on the inside.''

The feeling in 2003, as he came into the NFL, was to acquit those who drafted him. The feeling now is that of a two-time first-team All-Pro out to prove he still belongs in the league -- and can be a significant member of a great defense.

Asomugha, 32, knows nothing is given, not even his spot on the 53-man roster. He vows to earn it. He'll have to. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio doesn't give out gifts.


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Fangio on Aug. 2 implied Asomugha might not make the roster, saying "the jury is still out." Four days later, perhaps realizing his initial comments were catnip for the curious, Fangio backed off.

"He's done fine," Fangio said. "I just said from day one, from the day we signed him until now, that he's got to earn the right to make this team."

Asomugha was unaffected by both comments, saying he's his own sharpest critic. But he's acutely aware that his contract is worth a modest $1.35 million, not one cent of which is guaranteed. Moreover, he realizes his fate will be determined mostly by the evaluations of Fangio and head coach Jim Harbaugh.

The odds, however, would seem to be with Asomugha. For one, the loss of veteran Chris Culliver to a season-ending injury loosens up the roster. For two, Nnamdi has looked proficient in practice and played well in the exhibition opener against Denver on Thursday. For three, he offers a dimension San Francisco's defense certainly needs.

At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Asomugha is a big, physical cover man capable of engaging and shadowing the bigger receivers around the NFL.

He's the only veteran corner in camp standing over 6 feet, and the league is populated with imposing receivers. In the six games against NFC West opponents, the 49ers could see Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (6-3, 218), Seattle's Sidney Rice (6-4, 202) and St. Louis' Brian Quick (6-3, 220) and Austin Pettis (6-3, 207). In a pinch, Nnamdi could line up against 250-pound tight ends such as Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham.

Asomugha believes he still can isolate on a top receiver or take away half the field, as he did for eight seasons with the Raiders. That, however, was before he signed a massive contract ($60 million over five years, $25 million guaranteed) with Philadelphia in 2011, after which his career spiraled downward. In Philly, as a member of a poor defense operating illogical schemes, Asomugha was subjected to whispers about his commitment. Implicit in the subtext was that he got paid and got lazy.

Like any proud athlete who worked his way from raw prospect into the elite specialist, Nnamdi took this as an insult not to be tolerated. It still sits in his gut.

"I give my all for the sport, and I just don't like it when, if things don't work out, people say, 'Oh, he doesn't care enough about football.' That was the thing that hurt me the most,'' he says. "Anybody that knows me well enough would know that's all that I am. When it's football time, that's where I am -- the studying, the working, the practicing, everything.

"I care. And I always have. I know that a lot of times when a guy is making a lot of money and he's not playing up to that caliber, it's like he's just getting his paycheck. That's never been me. That's never, ever been me.''

Nnamdi can't afford to be that guy, not even for a minute. Not on this high-profile team, not with this low-profile contract and not with his career approaching such a major intersection.

It's a new chapter and a new script, with all that came before no more than reference material swept into the dust bin of history.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.