It took Josh Norman five days to get his swagger back.
The Carolina Panthers’ rookie cornerback was undressed on national TV last week by Giants quarterback Eli Manning. The seemingly endless series of Manning completions in the Giants’ 36-7 win on Sept. 20 took a toll on Norman, the unofficial Most Confident Man in Spartanburg during training camp.
This was the same player who, after intercepting four passes during an August practice at Wofford, pointed out to reporters it had been five picks. “Y’all missed one,” Norman said with a smile.
The smile was gone Monday after Norman had a long weekend to digest the roughest night he’s endured as an athlete.
“I was still down Tuesday. But I kind of got over it (Tuesday) night,” Norman said. “It was a national stage. People were everywhere and I was hearing all this bad stuff. I’ve never been in that situation where people are coming at me like that. I felt down.”
A conversation with secondary coach Steve Wilks – and the fact the Panthers stuck with him – helped Norman bounce back. Norman knows the No. 24 on his jersey is now a target for opposing quarterbacks, beginning Sunday, when the league’s highest-rated passer, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, takes aim.
Norman’s teammates and coaches hope quarterbacks keep throwing his way.
“I hope teams continue to do that because he’s going to make them pay. I’m 100 percent confident in what I’m saying right now, he’s going to make them pay,” veteran linebacker Thomas Davis said. “I’ve seen this guy week in and week out in practice go out and get it done. It’s all about letting it transfer to the field. And I’m more than confident that he’s going to go out and get that done.”
Norman, a fifth-round pick from Coastal Carolina, said things could have been worse against the Giants. He didn’t give up any touchdown catches, and he finished with 11 tackles. But most of those tackles were made on the receiver he was covering.
“I looked at the film. I was right there. I didn’t squeeze,” Norman said. “We were in soft zone coverages and I was more so thinking to play over the top instead of coming down. That’s just learning things. It was nothing big what they did to me that I can’t fix.”
Wilks, a Charlotte native in his first year with the Panthers, first had to fix Norman’s psyche this week. Wilks told Norman the criticism directed at Norman stemmed from the fact that Norman played so well at training camp and during the preseason.
“It’s your fault. You set the bar up here, coming in and getting two and three interceptions at practice,” Norman recalled Wilks saying. “That wasn’t anybody else’s fault but yours.”
Norman unseated returning starter Captain Munnerlyn during the preseason with his coverage skills and instinctive play. Panthers coach Ron Rivera thinks Norman needs to make a big play in a game to experience that epiphany.
“Young guys, if they don’t have success in certain situations, it’ll get to them,” Rivera said. “I think he got caught on his heels a little bit. He gave up a couple passes early and I think it just got him on his heels. ...
“Hopefully, at the right time, the right opportunity, he makes the big play. And all of a sudden he realizes, ’Hey, I can do this.’ Young guys have to have that moment that says, ‘I’m back.’ ”
Norman grew up in Greenwood, S.C., the same hometown as Panthers receiver Armanti Edwards. When poor grades kept the bigger schools away, Norman took classes at a two-year school in Myrtle Beach and ended up at Coastal, where his older brother played.
Norman broke school and Big South Conference records with 48 pass breakups in 46 games. His 13 interceptions were second in conference history.
Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert, who played with Norman’s brother at Coastal Carolina, said Norman’s cockiness is legendary. According to Tolbert, when a Panthers scout came to Coastal Carolina’s pro day last spring, Norman asked him, “What took y’all so long?”
Norman believes it’s only a matter of time before quarterbacks stop challenging him because he’s a rookie.
“They’re like, ’This is his first year, fresh meat guy. We want to try him out,’” Norman said. “I just want to be on the same level as (Chris) Gamble. … I’m not nobody’s stepchild to be picked on, that’s for sure. When that time comes and it’s changed around, they’re going to understand and know that.”
It sounds like Norman’s swagger is back.
“I don’t think I ever lost it,” he said.
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