Cornerback Josh Norman is Panthers' resident daredevil

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Josh Norman's heart is racing out of control. Beyond a big smile, he is struggling to control his breathing. He is more nervous about the moment than maybe any other he has tackled.

The Carolina Panthers cornerback isn't about to face Atlanta's Julio Jones or Detroit's Calvin Johnson, two of the best wide receivers in the NFL.

He is about to jump out of an airplane from 10,000 feet.

"YOLO! ... You only live once!" Norman shouts into the GoPro camera as he dangles just outside the small plane, strapped to his instructor for the tandem jump.

To play on a so-called island, as cornerbacks are asked, you have to be fearless, so two months ago Norman decided to get over one of his biggest fears -- heights.

"When I jumped out of that plane, man, and started falling, it was like a gut check for me," Norman said as he recalled the experience. "I was like, 'If I can do this, I can do pretty much anything.'"

Norman's stock is doing anything but falling. It has been on the rise since the middle of last season, when the Panthers began matching the fourth-year player out of Coastal Carolina with their opponents' best receivers.

Norman held Philadelphia's Jeremy Maclin to three catches for 38 yards and no touchdown in Week 10. A week later, he held Atlanta's Jones to six catches for 59 yards and no touchdowns. In Week 17, he held Jones to four catches for 58 yards.

Norman gave up an 8-yard touchdown to Tampa Bay's Mike Evans in Week 15, but the rookie sensation caught only one other pass for 5 yards. Norman's still upset about that one.

Norman's performance last season turned enough heads to get him in the conversation as one of the top 10 corners in the league heading into 2015.

"I think he has an opportunity to be a special player in this league," NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks recently said.

After Carolina gives linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly contract extensions, Norman should be next in line.

That didn't seem likely a few years ago. After starting the first 12 games as a fifth-round draft pick in 2012, Norman was benched due to a lack of discipline in a game against Kansas City.

He played in only seven games in 2013, often spending time on the inactive list. He didn't play a snap in the 2014 opener and didn't start until Week 5, and then suffered a concussion that kept him out of the next two games.

But after being cleared to play in Week 8, Norman (6-foot, 195) has been Carolina's best corner.

"He plays confident, and when you have a corner that plays confident you're going to make things happen," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "When he got back on the field, when he earned that right to be there, he took it and ran with it."

Norman plays much smarter than he did three years ago. He plays within the system. He doesn't freelance as much.

Call it controlled chaos.

"With Josh, everything is out of control," Rivera said with a smile. "He plays with his hair on fire, which is who he is. ... I want him to continue to grow and play within the confines of what we do and use your techniques that you're being taught."

Fear definitely isn't an issue for Norman. Beyond jumping out of plane, he enjoys snow skiing, speed boats and rides horses at his family's property in Greenwood, South Carolina, and the one he keeps near Charlotte. He has a small scar above his left eye that he got as a kid when his horse, Strawberry, threw him.

Norman still has a bucket list of things he wants to do off the field as well as on it. The biggest thing left on his off-the-field list now that he has jumped from a plane?

"Run with the bulls," Norman said of the event in which those brave enough try to avoid being trampled or speared by bulls in the streets of Pamplona, Spain. "That's definitely something I have my eyes set on."

That's because Norman believes now he can do anything.