Josh Norman has to continue playing with a chip on his shoulder

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Updated: August 2, 2016
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He’s the highest paid cornerback in the NFL. He was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate last season. Oh, and he’ll be the highest-rated corner on the popular video game Madden ’17 — which hits stores on Aug. 23. But, there’s a sense that Josh Norman still hasn’t earned the respect he deserves.

He had an All-Pro year in 2015, as he was a superstar-like player in the Carolina Panthers‘ secondary. Norman played an essential role in why they were able to finish the regular season with a 15-1 record, solidifying himself as one of the best in the league at his position. But the Panthers felt they could move forward without Norman, as they shockingly parted ways with the 28-year-old during the offseason.

The Redskins jumped at the chance to sign Norman, and paid him $75 million over five years — including $50 million guaranteed. Now that he’s got the money, the former Coastal Carolina product has to prove that Washington didn’t make a mistake. The NFL’s top receivers will be gunning for him week-in and week-out, and he’ll have to once again force quarterbacks to think otherwise when looking in his direction.

Norman excelled in the Panthers’ cover-2 defensive scheme, which allowed him to oftentimes focus on one side of the field. And that, of course, caused him to draw criticism from opposing wide receivers and cornerbacks across the league. They don’t feel he has what it takes to follow around the best receiver on a team, play man-to-man and be considered a “shutdown corner” — similar to what Seattle SeahawksRichard Sherman experienced after breaking through as one of the elite defensive backs in the game.

When former Atlanta Falcons wideout Roddy White was asked if Norman’s cover skills were along the same wavelength as players like Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis and Aqib Talib, he had this to say:

“No, you must be trippin’. Of covering people? You’ve got to man up and go out there and get after people if you’re going to be that. You can’t sit back and play zone, dropping, playing Cover 2 for half the game and say you’re locking people up. Come on, man. Everybody knows that.”

White faced the Panthers twice per season while in Atlanta. He got the opportunity to play against Norman several times, being in the same division. His counterpart, Julio Jones, had a monster game in the Falcons’ second meeting against Carolina last season, catching nine passes for 178 yards and one touchdown. Even though, according to Pro Football Focus, Jones caught just five passes for 80 yards when Norman was in the vicinity.

But other elite receivers didn’t fair as well when facing off against Norman. Both DeAndre Hopkins and Dez Bryant struggled, while New York GiantsOdell Beckham Jr. — as we all know — was ready to enter a UFC cage and have an all-out brawl during their matchup.

With Washington, Norman will find himself on the same field as Bryant and Beckham twice per year. And believe me when I say: Those matchups will certainly be hyped up by the media. But, Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry runs a similar defensive system as the Panthers. Carolina lined up in zone coverage on 78 percent of its snaps last season, while the Redskins were in zone on 67 percent of their plays. So they won’t expect Norman to follow around those top wideouts all game. Plus they have Bashaud Breeland on the other side, who proved his value last year once Chris Culliver went down with a season-ending injury.

There’s a strong belief that Norman benefited from the Panthers’ front seven, which features Luke Kuechly — the best middle linebacker in the NFL. And in all likelihood, it was a combination of both the secondary and the front seven that gave the Panthers the league’s sixth-ranked defense. The Redskins’ pass rush isn’t expected to be as lethal as Carolina’s, but DeAngelo Hall, who shifted over to safety last season, believes this is the best secondary he’s ever played with.

“Just watching the guys compete and battle, there’s no doubt in my mind this is the most talented group I’ve ever been around,” Hall said. “We had a pretty good group in Oakland — myself, Nnamdi Asomugha, Gibril Wilson, Stanford Routt, Chris JohnsonTyvon Branch. We had a squad out there. We couldn’t quite get it together, but we had a squad. This group top to bottom is absolutely more talented than that group I was part of.”

Norman was a fifth-round draft pick in 2012, so he didn’t come into the NFL with a silver spoon in his mouth. He had to earn everything that was given to him. But now he’s in a position to continue down the path as one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks. He’s already been added to that discussion, but he has to do the one thing that many players at his position has struggled with: stay consistent.

Norman has to put an end to the “one-year wonder” rumors. He has to prove that the Panthers were wrong to rescind his franchise tag and let him walk. He has to prove that the money won’t change his work ethic and determination to be great. He has to play with the same tenacity, attitude and swagger that allowed him to reach this point. And he has to prove that the four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 18 pass deflections wasn’t a fluke last season.

“Just because I got paid and I’m one of the highest-paid guys on the squad, it’s no different,” Norman said. “I don’t feel like I’ve got the money, to be honest with you, because I’m still working. I’m still trying to be better at something, man. What that is, I don’t know yet, but I’m still trying to climb and elevate my level of play.”

Josiah Turner

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He is a writer for ESPN, and has written for Rant Sports and FanSided covering the Washington Redskins. He's also covered high school basketball for Virginia Preps (Rivals.com). Josiah is from Chesapeake, VA and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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