Tom Sorensen

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman ready to go from shut down to shutdown

Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, left, is the team’s best cornerback, and he’s nearing shutdown corner status. But first he has to get out of the concussion protocol so he can play.
Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, left, is the team’s best cornerback, and he’s nearing shutdown corner status. But first he has to get out of the concussion protocol so he can play. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Josh Norman suffered a concussion last week in the Carolina Panthers’ exhibition against Pittsburgh. He’s undergoing the NFL’s concussion protocol, and has yet to be cleared to play in Carolina’s season opener Sunday at Jacksonville.

Here’s the problem with whoever makes the determination. Norman’s normal is not normal.

When Norman, 27, speaks, it’s as if a current runs through him. He offers combinations of paragraphs, sentences, phrases, words, vowels and consonants. Many are unique, and almost all of them are interesting.

I don’t mean to imply that Norman is a character. We occasionally do that in my business, and by doing so we can limit people. The implication is that the athlete is a sidekick, or even a clown, and should not be taken seriously.

Josh Norman is Carolina’s best cornerback, and he’s on the cusp of attaining the near mythical shutdown corner status.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will take Norman seriously. He is Carolina’s best cornerback, and he’s on the cusp of attaining the near mythical shutdown corner status.

But first, he has to play.

Norman was allowed to participate in practice Wednesday, but he was not allowed to engage in drills that involved contact.

He says he’s suffered only one previous concussion, and that was last season against the Chicago Bears. He missed two games. That concussion, he says, was much worse.

At least three times Wednesday, he calls this concussion a headache.

Norman wants to play. He desperately wants to play. He hasn’t started on opening day since he was a rookie in 2012. He didn’t start last season until Carolina’s fifth game, the Chicago game in which he suffered the concussion. When he returned, he was the player coaches envisioned, and he has started every game since.

Above Norman on a shelf in his locker is a large Batman figure. He’s a huge Batman fan.

But Norman is having a Robin moment. He begins to remove his jersey and it won’t come off. He pulls it, yanks it, bends from the waist, and pulls some more.

“I’m just stuck,” he says.

Finally a man reaches in and pulls and Norman frees himself of the jersey.

You OK?

“Oh, wow,” says Norman. “Whooo.”

The removal of the jersey isn’t serious. The concussion is.

“Anything that deals with your head is a huge concern because that’s pretty much everything,” says Norman. “It works your whole body. When you take a hit like that, you definitely want to be cautious. The training staff really did a good job.”

If Josh Norman doesn’t play Sunday, the Panthers defense loses a star. Before the concussion protocol was developed, consequences could be much worse.

If Norman doesn’t play Sunday, the Panthers defense loses a star. Before the league’s concussion protocol was developed, consequences could be much worse.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized for, well, everything, and he’s earned it. But whatever his motivation, he’s helped rid the league of its culture of head-first tackling. Goodell was heavily criticized by former and current players when he began the campaign. Yet it is, and likely always will be, his best work.

If the head isn’t right, the player doesn’t play.

“It was boring,” Norman says about the protocol. “But it was a good thing, though.”

Do you expect to play Sunday?

“Look,” he says. “I don’t see why I wouldn’t.”

Norman says he has one more test to pass.

The test likely is neuropsychological. I ask if he can study, or cheat.

“I don’t know, man,” Norman says. “That lady, she’s tough.”

So what do you do?

He says he’ll bribe her with gummy bears.

And if he passes the test, he’ll play.

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