Cornerback Josh Norman became a star player in 2015, as the Panthers went 15-1 and landed in the Super Bowl. But he thinks that he played better last season, as a member of a non-playoff team.
“By far for me that was the best season I had,” Norman said Wednesday, via John Keim of ESPN.com.
“When I came over from where I was at, they thought I was a system guy,” Norman added. “Got that a lot. I used to chuckle and laugh at it like, ‘Wow, you guys must really hate me for some reason but that’s OK.’”
Part of the criticism directed at Norman a year ago came from the fact that he didn’t follow the other team’s No. 1 receiver. But Norman saw a greater degree of versatility in his performance.
“Last year was the year I could stand on my own 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. I can have a sack or a big play, smack a running back in the backfield. Whatever you need me to do. I can be the hammer. I can be the force. I did that on the outside as well.”
This year, Norman will augment press coverage with more of his work originating from Norman being farther away from the receiver at the snap.
“It opens up my repertoire of tools,” Norman said. “There’s a wide range of things that I can make more plays on, see a lot. . . . There’s a lot more room for error instead of being in someone’s face and smelling what he ate that morning. Now I can give you so many different things. I’m looking forward to that.”
Norman continues to be regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but it’s no surprise that he didn’t get more credit for his performance in 2016. The fact that the team struggled, coupled with the perception that Norman wasn’t facing the top receiver from the opposing team consistently, contributed to the sense that Norman took a step back, even though he believes he took a step forward.
The real question for 2017 will be whether he and anyone else believe that Norman has taken another step forward.