RICHMOND, Va. -- The dichotomy of his situation is this: the Washington Redskins' Josh Norman is wealthy as all get out; he must work like he's broke. Norman is the NFL's highest paid cornerback; he also clings to his roots as a fifth-round pick.
So if he wants to maintain his standing -- not in terms of money, but, rather, status -- then he can't deviate from what helped him reach this spot in the first place. It's hard, for now, to separate Norman from his contract and that puts him under a more intense microscope. To make sure his game doesn't change, Norman says he hasn't altered his work habits.
"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."
During one-on-one drills Saturday, Norman only received one repetition. That didn't sit well with him: Nearly 10 minutes later he was overheard on the sidelines complaining about that fact. He wanted the work. After one practice, as safety DeAngelo Hall spoke to reporters about Norman, he pointed to him working out off to the side, performing backpedal drills among other aspects.
Watching Norman reminded Hall of his situation when he signed a seven-year, $70-million deal with Oakland in 2008. It rubbed some teammates the wrong way.
"When I got paid like that in Oakland, I didn't feel embraced that much," Hall said. "I think Nnamdi [Asomugha] was disappointed that he didn't get a contract and other guys were getting paid. There was animosity towards guys and I never felt that camaraderie. But this guy, from Day 1, everyone embraced Josh. He embraced guys back. He's not standoffish. He's one of the guys. Anytime you have a superstar like that, you almost expect him to be a certain way and when you meet him, he's one of the humblest, down-to-Earth country boys you will meet."
Hall said he told Norman after he signed that he just needed to be himself. If he wasn't, Hall told him, it would start Norman's relationship with his new team the wrong way. Norman agreed.
"Be the same guy," Norman said. "For me, it's always been God, la familia and football. Everything else is second to irrelevant. When I had that coming in here -- new team, new face, new people to meet -- it's just like going to a new school; you've got to make new friends all over again. But, for me, I think it was easy because I was open. I was here to listen."
And work. That part has rubbed off on others. It's not as if others in the secondary weren't working hard before. Corner Bashaud Breeland, for example, steadily improved his first two seasons by taking a certain approach. Others in the secondary have lasted despite being low-round picks.
"Josh is a technician and you see him even in walk-throughs or in special teams periods or on the sidelines always working on his technique," Redskins safety Duke Ihenacho said. "Guys like me, even though we're the same year, we see that and say he's done all that to get to where he is and we see the respect he demands so we do it as well."
Being the highest paid doesn't always equate to being the best at a position. Contracts are more about timing and market value than anything else. But Norman clearly has elevated his game over the last season-and-a-half -- he was among those considered for the NFL's defensive player of the year and was named All-Pro for a reason.
Breeland said he's picked up technique tips by watching Norman, such as hand placement -- he's aligned lower because that's how Norman does it to help keep his hands down -- or the way he executes certain coverages.
"He does the little things right," Breeland said. "I've learned nuances from him."
"That's something that made these corners great," Bruton said. "They all do extra work."
You can forgive Redskins fans if they're a little anxious about Norman. They've been burned before with a litany of bad free-agent signings, from Dana Stubblefield in 1997 to Albert Haynesworth in 2009. But Norman's success or failure has nothing to do with them. He's in a different situation than he was in Carolina, where he played with one of the more talented front sevens. In Washington, though, Norman said he can expand his game based on what they're asking him to do.
What won't change, by all accounts, is Norman's work habits.
"He's not walking around here like he just got paid," Ihenacho said. "He still works as hard as a guy trying to make the roster. When you have guys like that, who are highly touted and highly paid, grinding like they're undrafted then it benefits everybody."