Through his tinted visor, Josh Norman says he sees offenses like they’re on repeat. He feels like he anticipates what’s next.
“You find a beat because you watched the film study early on in the week and then a certain situation is telling me what is going to come,” Norman said. “I don’t even think about it.”
Norman’s vision enables him be one of the top-flight cornerbacks in the league, and his pride keeps him on the field longer than any other Washington Redskins player after practice. With a “sour taste” in his mouth from last season when he didn’t make the Pro Bowl and was the league’s most penalized player, Norman has been working on his closing speed and even more anticipation skills because he senses a big year coming.
In new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s scheme, Norman will have more freedom to sit off some of the game’s top receivers and read plays. The result could be even more difference-making plays from the 29-year-old who loves nothing more than standing out when it matters.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” Norman said with a smile. “I get to get back and sit in that coverage where I see things, and I can go and attack much faster.”
An All-Pro in 2015 with the Carolina Panthers, Norman had three interceptions and two forced fumbles and was fifth in the league with 22 passes defensed last season . He takes issue with the idea that he didn’t make a lot of plays and felt like it was a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Taking a league-high 14 penalties, including six flags for illegal use of hands and three each for pass interference and holding, didn’t help Norman’s cause. But with Manusky and new defensive backs coach Torrian Gray calling the shots, Norman will be counted on to be less physical and take advantage of his ability to watch quarterbacks’ timing and jump receivers’ routes.
“That’s his forte,” coach Jay Gruden said. “When he can see the ball and see the quarterback and feel the route concept, he has a great knack for getting his hands on balls and getting interceptions. When he’s locked up man-to-man, he is good at that, too, it’s just hard because quarterbacks can work elsewhere. He can come off on a different receiver, make plays and do some great things when he can see the ball and see the quarterback.”
Norman said this feels like this is his “backyard,” and teammates already expect big things because of what the defensive playbook looks like.
“It’s going to allow a Josh Norman, I think, to be more active and make more plays,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “He’s been scaring me a little more this camp than maybe last year simply because of the coverage schemes and what he’s being asked to do or given the opportunity to do.”
Norman hopes he strikes that same fear into the Eagles’ Carson Wentz, Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, Giants’ Eli Manning and the other QBs the Redskins face this season. Half of Norman’s value is as a deterrent to make passers consider throwing to Bashaud Breeland’s side or elsewhere, but with receivers like Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. to deal with, he also has to work to shut them down.
Manusky is willing to move Norman from side to side this season as long as there’s a comfort level. What Manusky is more concerned with is capitalizing on what he considers Norman’s strong savviness and feel for the game.
“I am going to try to use his talents a little bit better, try to get him in quarters a little bit and get him in different coverages that we have,” Manusky said. “So we will get him to play the ball a little bit more.”
That’s exactly what Norman wants: the chance to change the direction of games like he did with the NFC champion Panthers two seasons ago.
“This goes back to route recognition and timing them, how you see things and you act upon them,” Norman said. “I see them so fast, and being off (he line of scrimmage), I see things a lot more down the field. It becomes massive to me.”