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Chargers corner Asante Samuel Jr. is NFL’s defensive rookie of the month

Chargers' Asante Samuel Jr. (26) grabs an interception during the first half against Kansas City.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley said cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., shown grabbing an interception against Kansas City, was out of position on the play. If he had been in position, the pick would not have happened, said the coach.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the month on Thursday.

He had two interceptions and four passes knocked away in becoming just the third Charger to win the award, joining Joey Bosa (2016) and Paul Bradford (1997).

But, a few hours after the league announced Samuel’s honor, coach Brandon Staley explained that sometimes there “can be an illusion in the NFL of just how well you’re doing.”

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He said Samuel’s second interception — Sunday at Kansas City — happened only because Samuel was out of position.

Samuel was supposed to be guarding wide receiver Marcus Kemp but came off that coverage and started chasing tight end Travis Kelce.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes fired a no-look pass slightly behind the open Kemp. The ball deflected off Kemp just high enough to allow Samuel to recover and make a diving interception.

“[If] he’d stayed on it, he probably doesn’t make that interception and he’s probably not rookie of the month, right?” Staley said. “So that’s the illusion in the NFL that I’d like to talk about. If he had done the right thing on that play, then that probably never happens and then would we be thinking any differently of him? Would we be any more pleased or displeased?

“We would be really happy with him no matter what. …The good thing about Asante is he’s got a lot of self awareness. He knows where he needs to go with his game. I think him earning rookie of the month just shows you his capacity because he’s been able to go nose to nose with three really good opponents.

Chargers rookie Asante Samuel Jr. grew up watching his dad play in the NFL, but father and son have harbored a contentious and complex relationship.

“But I think that, with him, he’s at the beginning. There’s so much … we’ve got the No. 1 passing team [Las Vegas] in the NFL coming in this week. So he’s got to keep going. There’s so much to improve on. But I think that he’s shown so far that he’s definitely up for the challenge.”


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