The fallout from cut-down day

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The decision to release veteran cornerback Drayton Florence on Saturday was a good thing if your first name is Josh and you play cornerback for the Carolina Panthers.

As in Josh Norman and Josh Thomas.

With Florence gone on the left side, one will step into the starting lineup for the Sept. 8 opener against the Seattle Seahawks. The likely and popular choice is Norman, who led the NFL in preseason interceptions with four, two more than any other player.

While ESPN's statistics department isn't aware of an official preseason record for interceptions, it was able to determine that Norman is the only player with at least four since 2000. There have been 13 with three.

Is Norman ready to return to the position he lost after starting the first 12 games a year ago? It appears so.

Asked how he felt after the preseason finale, a 25-10 win over Pittsburgh in which he returned an interception 70 yards before being tackled, Norman said, "comfortable."

"I can sit out there now and just read stuff, just play off guys, and my eyes got a whole lot better,'' he continued. "I can see the field a lot better. Instead of hesitant to make a play, I'm going to make a play. I feel like that every time I get out on the field."

What has kept the second-year player from Coastal Carolina out of the starting lineup since his mistake-riddled performance against Kansas City last season has been little things such as discipline and reading his keys.

It didn't help that Carolina won its final four games after Norman was benched.

Norman knows all this, and believes his performance in training camp has proven he's ready to contribute. Coach Ron Rivera has been impressed, but hedges by saying Norman needs to continue to "learn to play within the confines of the defense.''

"I kind of get like sporadic out there sometimes,'' Norman admitted. "I see stuff faster than other guys and I want to pick up on it, but I [miss] my keys and what I know I'm not supposed to do. It comes with understanding and learning and getting out of my habits and ways.''

The good news is Carolina has a solid front seven that will cover up a lot of mistakes in the secondary because quarterbacks should have less time to throw. That makes getting a big playmaker such as Norman on the field more important.

"I'll just continue to do what I've been doing and I'll be in a good spot,'' Norman said.

The Panthers need Norman to help put a secondary, which gave up the highest opponent completion percentage (66.8) of any team in the league last season, in a good spot.

Preseason returns look promising. Although there remain some soft spots in the middle, Carolina's defense led the league with 10 preseason interceptions -- the most by a team since the 2000 Cardinals.

Yes, there's bad news. The Cardinals went on to a 3-13 regular-season record and intercepted only 10 passes. Only two teams had fewer.

But like Norman, the potential is there for Carolina to avoid that pitfall.

"We're good right now,'' said Norman, who began proving his point with two interceptions in the preseason opener against Chicago. "We just need to continue to do the little things to get us to where we are. We'll propel ourselves into being in a good spot at the end of the year."

Norman already has propelled himself to a better spot.