Panthers' Tre Boston misses Josh Norman, but 'we've got to move on'

Josh Norman made the Pro Bowl for Carolina last season, and the Panthers selected three cornerbacks in first five rounds of the 2016 draft as they prepare for life without him. Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers miss cornerback Josh Norman.

Nobody debates that.

From head coach Ron Rivera to middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to free safety Tre Boston, not having the 2015 Pro Bowl selection around during organized team activities has been an adjustment.

To many, it was a surprise when the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag and left Norman to sign with the Washington Redskins.

But nobody is dwelling on it.

"Of course, I miss my boy Josh," Boston said as the Panthers began Phase 3 of OTAs last week. "But it’s a business. You can’t miss guys too long, because the next thing you know, it lingers onto the team. That’s what we can’t have. We’ve got to move on."

Kuechly agreed.

"Josh did an excellent job for us last year," the three-time Pro Bowl selection said. "He played hard. He embodied what we wanted to do on defense.

"I’ll miss Josh. I’ll miss his energy and attitude and just what he brought. But I think we’ve brought some young guys in that are going to step in and do a great job for us."

Ditto says outside linebacker Thomas Davis.

"Josh was one of our best players on defense last year," he said. "He’s one of the best players in the league. It’s definitely going to be different not having him out there.

"But at the same time, we’ve got a bunch of guys that are ready to learn, and we’re ready to teach them everything we know."

The Panthers drafted three cornerbacks -- James Bradberry (second round), Daryl Worley (third) and Zack Sanchez (fifth) -- to battle Robert McClain for one cornerback spot.

They are confident third-year cornerback Bene' Benwikere, recovering from a late-season fractured leg, will be the other starter.

There’s no sense of panic or nervousness because Norman isn't around, even though he led all cornerbacks last season with an opposing quarterback passer rating of 54.0.

"We have a new bunch of guys, and we’re going to try to establish a new bunch of things and make sure that we’re physical and we correct the things from last year," Benwikere said.

Rivera is counting on Benwikere to play a big role in the transformation of a secondary that essentially will have three new starters.

"He’s got a great natural feel for the position," Rivera said. "He understands what we’re doing, and we’re counting on him to be one of the leaders of that secondary."

From a talent standpoint, the Panthers believe they have the answer to replace Norman on their roster. Developing communication without Norman and strong safety Roman Harper will be the biggest focus.

"That’ll be very important," Benwikere said. "The one key thing Tre Boston and I were just talking about is we don’t have the starters in Josh Norman and Roman that were out there.

"We just have to get some of the drafted corners up on that communication."

Davis liked what he initially saw.

"We had some really good chemistry last year," he said. "Minus losing Josh, we really didn’t lose a whole lot. We lost some older guys we’re going to miss in Jerricho [Cotchery] and Dwan [Edwards] and Roman, but at the end of the day, it’s about staying together as a group and keeping that same continuity we had and continuing to build off it."

Boston reminded that Norman’s name wasn’t even mentioned when Carolina began Phase 3 of OTAs on Tuesday.

"That’s how you’ve got to keep it," he said. "But at the end, that’s still my guy."