For two years, Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman had his locker next to Captain Munnerlyn, the former Panthers’ cornerback who signed with Minnesota as a free agent in March.
With the Panthers preparing to face the Vikings next Sunday following Carolina’s bye week, Norman was asked what he took from Munnerlyn during their two seasons together.
“I didn’t take nothing from him. Nothing,” Norman said last week. “We weren’t very tight. Captain had me doing so much little petty stuff.”
Norman spent much of the next 10 minutes ripping his former teammate, claiming he refused to help Norman when the two competed at cornerback and saying Munnerlyn, who is 5-foot-9, had “little man syndrome.”
“I’m bigger than him. I think I’m better than him. He knew it,” said Norman, who is 6-0 and 195 pounds. “The craziest part about it was he’d try to find little things to get in my head. It was like, ‘Man, we’re on the same team. You should want to help us out.’
“He never wanted to help me out with anything. That’s why I never asked him any questions. Once I got stuff wrong from asking him, I was like, ‘I’ll find my own way around.’ ”
Munnerlyn called Norman’s comments a “slap in the face.”
“With him saying I never helped him, it kind of hurts,” Munnerlyn said Saturday during a phone interview. “Me being there for his first two years, I know when Josh came to me with a question, I always helped him. And I never felt threatened about Josh at all. At the end of the day, coach is going to put the best player on the field and they’re going to play.”
Munnerlyn, the Panthers’ seventh-round pick from South Carolina in 2009, became a full-time starter in 2011. Norman joined the team in 2012 after being drafted in the fifth round from Coastal Carolina.
Norman started his first 12 games before being benched following a loss at Kansas City for playing too soft against the Chiefs’ receivers. Munnerlyn started 11 games in 2012 after Chris Gamble was injured early in the season.
Munnerlyn, 26, who left South Carolina a year early, is four months younger than Norman despite having three more years of NFL experience. Munnerlyn believes that played a factor in the disconnect between him and Norman.
“I was one of the veterans and he was like, ‘Man, I’m older than him,’ ” Munnerlyn said. “I think he had a problem with that.”
Norman conceded he was not always diligent in performing his “rookie duties,” which he called tedious. Norman said the chores never rose to the level of hazing, but he believes Munnerlyn and other veteran defensive backs went “overboard” with his rookie dinner.
According to Norman, he and fellow rookie D.J. Campbell split a dinner tab of about $16,000 or $17,000 at Del Frisco’s. The bill included several bottles of Dom Perignon at “$1,200, $1,500 a pop.”
Munnerlyn said he doesn’t recall the bill being that expensive, adding such rookie dinners are a tradition in the NFL. He said the dinner in question was “nothing personal” against Norman.
Norman said he and Munnerlyn never reached a truce but found a way to co-exist.
“I got to a point where I ignored it. I went my own way, did my own thing,” Norman said. “His locker was beside me so I couldn’t help but – whatever. He was trying to be nice here and there.”
Norman struggled for much of his first two seasons. He was inactive for five of six games last season after giving up a winning touchdown pass in a Week 2 loss at Buffalo.
But Norman has been solid this season after taking over for Melvin White as a starter Oct. 5. While acknowledging Munnerlyn’s departure opened a spot at cornerback, Norman said his ascension would have happened regardless.
“I knew I was going to overtake him, and he knew it, too,” Norman said. “So he was always trying to come at me about my mind and how I can’t read concepts and get stuff. ‘OK, guy, whatever.’ And he was trying to find little ways to keep me down.”
Munnerlyn said his statistics speak for themselves.
Munnerlyn had seven interceptions in 77 games with the Panthers, including a team-record five he returned for touchdowns. He has two picks this season for the Vikings, who fell to 4-7 Sunday after losing to Green Bay 24-21.
Norman has two interceptions in 32 career games.
“We can go back and forth and say, ‘He’s a better player than me. He’s a lot bigger.’ But at the end of the day, you put up my numbers to his numbers, numbers don’t lie,” Munnerlyn said. “I just go out there and play football. I don’t care how big I am and I don’t care who’s in my way.”
Munnerlyn said Norman is playing well and appears to have regained his swagger. But Munnerlyn believes Norman still has a lot to learn about the NFL.
“He’s a guy with a lot of confidence. Don’t get me wrong. … I always said when Josh, from his first year when he struggled a little bit, he lost a little confidence. He wasn’t the Josh Norman that we knew. And he’s building his confidence back,” Munnerlyn said.
“But at the same time, you’ve got to respect the game. You’ve got to respect the people who put in the work before you – if they’re not that much older than you or if they’ve been in the league – you’ve got to respect them, man. And that’s something I think Josh lacks. He just don’t respect the game.”