Outburst aside, Norman having great camp

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Josh Norman is one of the most physically gifted players on the Carolina Panthers roster.

He's got the size (6-foot, 195), speed, quickness and vision to be one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL.

Norman also is one of the most unpredictable players on the Carolina roster, which keeps him from being not just an elite cornerback, but a starter.

Just when you think he's getting it, he reverts back to old, bad habits in terms of technique. Or he loses his cool, as he did on Sunday night when he got into a jawing match with Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

The Panthers got that one under control fast. Outside linebacker Thomas Davis shoved Norman out of the way before it got to the point when a penalty would have been called. Coach Ron Rivera then pulled the third-year player from the game.

Rivera appreciated Thomas' effort. Coaches like it when players are accountable and do their dirty work.

"And to me that is huge,'' Rivera said.

Having Norman play to his potential would be huge, too.

Sunday's outburst aside, he might be closer than perhaps ever to being the player the Panthers envisioned in 2012 when they drafted him in the fifth round out of Coastal Carolina.

He had a team-best six tackles and an interception in a 20-18 loss to Buffalo in the exhibition opener. He had two tackles and a defensed pass in the 28-16 victory over Kansas City.

He's gone from third on the depth chart to second. Had Melvin White and Antoine Cason not played so well in the first two games, he might be challenging one for a starting job.

"He's done a great job this camp,'' Rivera said on Wednesday. "This camp has been exceptional for him, watching him stick to those things. ... This year he's had the kind of camp you get excited about.''

Norman arrived with a reputation for being uncoachable. Rivera doesn't buy that, but he does call Norman a "work in progress.''

Because Norman is so gifted, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and secondary coach Steve Wilks have worked overtime trying to turn that into positive production.

They've repped him tirelessly, hoping the muscle memory will turn old, bad habits into good, new ones.

"The kid's got so much ability, and that's what we're trying to get in his head,'' Rivera said. "We're not trying to take away his playmaking ability. We're trying to help him increase it and maximize his chances.''

Getting inside Norman's head is the difficult part. While his confidence unquestionably is a positive, he didn't seem to grasp after Sunday's game what he had done that was so wrong.

"What do you want us to be out there? Little puppets?'' he said. "You mean, you want us to say nothing? C'mon, it's within the game. I don't think we were taking it too far to where either one of us was getting flagged.''

Davis disagreed, remembering three unsportsmanlike penalties in the playoff loss to San Francisco that were costly in Carolina's 23-10 loss.

His message to Norman was simple.

"Be smart,'' Davis said. "Understand what's going on, understand the situation that we're in and understand the way the refs are going to be judging the game right now. They have a zero tolerance right now for trash-talking. We just have to stay clear of that stuff.''

Had Norman been smart at Buffalo in Week 2 last season, he might still be a starter. With six seconds remaining and the Bills facing second-and-1 from the Carolina 2, cornerback D.J. Moore signaled for Norman to switch on a route.

Norman said he didn't get the call, though others around him saw it. He left wide receiver Stevie Johnson wide open in the left corner of the end zone for the winning touchdown.

Norman was inactive for 10 of Carolina's next 15 games.

The perception was Rivera put Norman in his doghouse. Rivera's reply?

"That's perception,'' he said.

Norman insists he has moved on. He said early in camp he feels "way better'' and "a lot more confident, comfortable in what we're supposed to do.''

Outside of losing control for one play against Kansas City, he might be right.