Despite not matching some of his statistics from 2015, cornerback Josh Norman thought his first year with the Redskins proved his versatility and was the best of his career.
Among the many headlines that cornerback Josh Norman made last year – from his decision to sign in Washington to his matchups with NFC East rival wide receivers – the majority seemed to mostly concern themselves with off the field matters. But on the field, Norman had what he believes was the best year of his career, he said on Wednesday.
Labeled as a "system cornerback" during his time with the Carolina Panthers, Norman made it a point to prove that he could be much more after the team rescinded his franchise tag. With a chip on his shoulder, he put together another strong statistical season in Washington and showed a variety of skills and techniques that transcended scheme.
"I think I opened up a range, a wild range, of things that I can do that people thought I probably couldn't," Norman said. "You know, when I came from over where I was at, they thought I was a system guy, you know, got that a lot."
Playing in all 16 games for the second consecutive season, Norman had a career high in tackles (67) and tied a career high in passes defensed (19), making three interceptions (one less than in 2015) and forcing two fumbles.
He also had the task of defending some of the best wide receivers in the league each week, starting with the Cowboys' Dez Bryant and followed by the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. and Bengals' A.J. Green, to name a few. But Norman also had the opportunity occasionally to make an impact in the run game and on blitzes, aspects of his game he was glad to contribute.
"I know when I was at Carolina I had two picks ran right to the house and all other things, but last year was the year I could actually stand them on and say, 'OK, I can play whatever you want me to play, coach. Put me in.'" Norman said. "I can go in nickel, I can come off the edge, you know, I can come after a sack; I will make plays, smack a running back in the backfield. Wherever you need me to do, I'll be the hammer, I'll be the force, and I did that on our side as well, held up as best as we possibly could."
This season, defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has promised that Norman will once again shadow the opponent's top receivers, but he will also play more off coverage instead of only in a receiver's face at the line of scrimmage.
This excites Norman in the same way he described his first season with the Redskins. It will allow him to display his range of skills at a more frequent pace and become more integral in the defensive game plan.
"Playing off, you never know what coverage I'm getting," Norman said. "I can drop down a spot, come back out and play cover three. I can do a lot of different things and those plays, those keys games and those key moments, well you win or loose. I feel like playing this position and playing this defense system that we got now so far, man, is going to benefit us a whole lot."
Now with safety D.J. Swearinger, someone he has a non-verbal trust with on the field, he feels like he will only progress in his second year here, just as the defense will.
"We like to take in to the next step and you know, bring it all in at one time and have it as all on the team and be part of something great and something special because we can carry Washington," Norman said. "I believe we got the keys and tools to do it."