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Josh Norman 'won't break rank,' defends debut season with Redskins

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman isn’t going to worry about which side of the field he’s on or whether he’s covering the opposition’s top receiver. And he’s certainly not paying attention to anyone critical of his 2016 season.

Norman didn’t make the Pro Bowl last year, his first season with Washington after being named All-Pro the previous year in Carolina. The Redskins’ defense wasn’t good last season, finishing 28th in total yards and 21st in points allowed.

But Norman said he didn’t think people understood what the secondary did at times, himself in particular. The Redskins’ third-down defense ranked last in the league. It’s not as if the Redskins never applied pressure -- they ranked 10th in sacks per pass attempt, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Their 38 sacks ranked ninth in the NFL, but they needed to bring extra pressure too often; Washington was seventh in the NFL with 199 blitzes.

The combination of needing to send more defenders and coverage breakdowns -- whether through scheme, communication or talent -- doomed the Redskins. Norman, though, was widely viewed as their best player on defense.

“We were on an island,” Norman said. “You being that guy, which is why I’m here, I have no problem with it, but when someone misconstrues that and think that he’s dropped off from what he was previously it’s like, 'where have you been?' A lot of guys can’t do that. They can’t go from one team and then still have the same stats or even better than what they did have.”

Norman was in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year in 2015 when he intercepted four passes, returning two for touchdowns. He also forced three fumbles and recorded 48 tackles and defended 19 passes. In 2016, he intercepted three passes (no touchdowns), forced two fumbles, made 52 tackles and defended 19 passes.

Another big topic last season involved who he defended in a game -- if he’d stay on the left side or rotate to cover the opposition’s best receiver. Before the season began, then-coordinator Joe Barry said he didn’t want to move him around. But late in a Week 2 loss to Dallas, Norman started covering Dez Bryant no matter where he aligned. After that game, the Redskins used Norman on either side when desired.

It will be that way again this season.

“Certain corners are sometimes really relaxed on the right side and some are on the left, and sometimes if you flip them at times, it actually messes with their head,” new Redskins coordinator Greg Manusky said. “It depends on the individual. If he feels comfortable switching sides, then that is fine. All of a sudden if he feels like we have a threat on the outside that we have to have Josh cover, then we will flip them.”

They also can have Norman stay on his side and, if the top target is on the other side, the Redskins can then focus more help to that part of the field.

Not that it matters to Norman. He’d like that role again; he won’t pout if that’s not what the Redskins want.

“I’ll ask for a guy; if you don’t want to put me on him, so be it,” Norman said. “I’m not going to do something you don’t want me to do. I’m not wired that way. I broke out of that the older I got to where it’s, 'Hey, look I play my job and do it to the best of my ability.' Maybe the coach is thinking, ‘OK, we know they’re not touching this side of the field; let’s worry about the other side.’ People don’t think about that.”

The biggest criticism occurred after the 2016 season opener, when he was matched against Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown on only a handful of occasions. Norman’s point on the matter: Brown, and any other receiver, knew where he’d be aligned.

“Why not get on him? Why not get on that guy?” Norman said. “They always come for the defensive guy -- [the receiver] gets to pick and choose where he wants to go.”

The bigger help for Washington could come from having Norman play more off coverage, designed to help him read the quarterback longer and, in theory, make more plays.

What won’t help Norman are more opinions on what he should do, not do, or say.

“I had all these people’s opinions that didn’t mean crap,” Norman said. “I said it a thousand times. I do what I’m asked to do. You don’t break officer’s rank. People out there get fired for doing that, so why are they gonna tell me to do it?”