ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman surprised his teammates last Tuesday by doing one thing that has turned him into an NFL personality: He started talking. And he addressed the entire group.
He believed it was necessary, coming off an embarrassing performance the previous night in New Orleans. A lot needed to be said.
“He said, ‘You all know me’ -- for as much as we do -- ‘I’m out of my element. I’m uncomfortable. I want you all to see that. I want you all to know that I’ll do whatever it takes,’” Redskins safety Montae Nicholson said. “We appreciated it. We took it. And it showed in practice and showed in the games.”
Norman responded with an interception and a forced fumble against his former team in the Redskins’ 23-17 win over the Carolina Panthers. It came a week after he’d been roundly criticized and picked apart -- even more than what typically comes with the territory of having signed a $75 million contract in 2016, the highest in the league for a cornerback.
But the issues that came to light served notice as to what might be happening in the Redskins' defensive backs room. Norman was punished by coach Jay Gruden after the cornerback kept his headphones on as a coach spoke at halftime of the loss to the New Orleans Saints loss on Oct. 8.
Then came criticism from former teammate DeAngelo Hall, who in a radio interview said Norman was more worried about being a celebrity. And other analysts, including former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly, called Norman the Redskins’ third-best corner. Inside the building, some questioned Norman’s effectiveness and agreed with Casserly.
Meanwhile, Norman and his teammates tried to reconnect.
“I feel it was very important to us,” Redskins corner Quinton Dunbar said. “We all know Josh likes to stick to himself. He’s a quiet guy. For him to branch out to his teammates and get out of his comfort zone really showed a lot.
“It was just putting everything out there and getting the differences squared out of the way so we can become one.”
The Redskins’ secondary has struggled at times with communication and coverage breakdowns this season. That’s another reason they wanted to get together. The defensive backs say they came out with a different mindset Sunday. They want to hold weekly get-togethers to build stronger chemistry. Every week, a defensive back will be responsible for a gathering, whether it’s going to the movies, bowling or riding go-karts.
“You’ve got to have chemistry with those guys,” Nicholson said.
While Swearinger -- Norman’s high school teammate -- is the vocal leader, they need Norman to be their playmaker. However, Norman realized it was important to bond more with teammates, some of whom don’t know him well despite playing with him for at least a year or longer.
“If they have my back and I got their back and they can trust in me and I can trust in them, then that’s all that matters,” Norman said. “The things that we went through, I can share with them and they can share with me. We can all communicate and be on the same level. And that’s what we had conversations about -- nothing more than that. That was pretty much the point.”
The point was well-taken.
“We took it, we said, 'We appreciate it J-No, let’s get back to work,'" Nicholson said. “After that, we sat down and watched film and started in the film room with the communication. Everybody was coaching each other in the film room, and that translates to the field.”
Said Gruden: "[Josh] has always been a good preparer, but sometimes people put him out in his own world. It's important for him to make sure everybody feels a part of the group together. It was a good gesture by him, and hopefully it continues to pay off."
The Redskins could always move on from Norman after the season, with a cap hit of $6 million that could be spread over two seasons. For now, though, he still counts more against the cap than any other cornerback. That invites criticism.
“This week was a little bit different, I’m not going to lie,” Norman said. “People came from everywhere ... and it’s like I’m playing cornerback versus everybody. Not just the opposing team, but the outside team and the noise of just everything. But when I went home ... everything shuts off, everything goes quiet. I’m at peace. I’m going to live my best life regardless of what these people say or what anybody else say. I’m going to do what we do best. My teammates know that. As long as they know we have their back and they have my back, I can stand the test of time.”