SPARTANBURG After a head-turning, four-interception practice Tuesday, Panthers rookie cornerback Josh Normans next feat was picking off a reporters question.
Asked about the four interceptions, Norman smiled and said: It was five. Yall are cutting me short.
It was one day in mid-August, but Norman might have cut to the front of the line at the No. 2 corner spot.
After missing most of the first two weeks of training camp with a hamstring injury, Norman burst on to the Wofford practice fields with a performance that energized his defensive teammates and had several of the Panthers receivers barking at the cocky, fifth-round pick from Coastal Carolina.
It felt great, big relief. The hardest thing for me was sitting down on the sideline, riding that (exercise) bike everyday, looking at the guys go hard at practice, Norman said. I was like, When I get back, its going to be a whirlwind.
Normans day started with an interception of Cam Newton during team passing drills. He was with the first-team defense, with Captain Munnerlyn the No. 2 corner last year lined up inside at nickel back.
Norman read the play, left his receiver and jumped in front of tight end Greg Olsen to make the pick along the sideline. He was just getting started.
Normans next pick came on a Newton pass that bounced off the hands of Louis Murphy. After he intercepted backup quarterback Derek Anderson, Norman ran up the sideline and spiked the ball.
In a red-zone drill, Norman made a diving interception in the end zone, then got up slowly. He was back in five minutes later, knocking down two more passes.
After his last pass breakup, linebacker Thomas Davis ran over to congratulate Norman, who said: I dont know why they keep throwing over here.
Olsen, among others, yelled that Norman had fresh legs because he hadnt practiced.
I was like, Well, if thats the circumstances yall have against me, Ill take it. Either way, its all in good competition. Its all in good fun, Norman said. I know those guys want to get better and I know we want to get better as a defense. Were always the stepchild to the offense. I think the stepchild won.
Norman, like Munnerlyn and many corners, is a good and willing talker. He said after organized team activities and minicamp he had frustrated Pro Bowl wideout Steve Smith with his blanket coverage.
Smith said later: Once late July, August comes, hes going to learn very quickly this isnt Coastal Carolina.
But defensive end Charles Johnson appreciated Normans confidence.
I love that. We need that type of swag on the team, or persona. He came to play, Johnson said. Were going to see what happens when we get in the game.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera was judicious with his praise. Rivera likes Normans vision and instincts, but said Norman would have been flagged for illegal contact had Tuesdays practice been a game.
One of the things hes got to understand now is you cant touch guys downfield. Its the NFL, not college football, Rivera said. He made some good plays and did some good things and I dont want to take anything away from Josh. But Josh has to understand that once we start getting downfield you have to be careful.
Norman, 24, who grew up in Greenwood, S.C., had 13 interceptions at Coastal and finished with 48 pass breakups, most in Big South Conference history.
He said the two weeks he was sidelined at camp helped him get a better grasp of the Panthers defensive concepts and coverage responsibilities.
When I first got here, it was all just fast and bullets flying. Coach was like, Is this thing too big for you? Norman said. At first, at OTAs, it wasnt. I started to think about it too much. And then I ended up blowing my hamstring a little bit. I sat down and really got back into my (play)book.
Norman sat out last weeks exhibition loss against Houston, but will figure prominently in Fridays game against Miami. As he joked with reporters about his four (or five) interceptions, Norman seemed to take it in stride.
Just gotta do it again tomorrow, he said.
It will be tough to top Tuesday.