Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton says he respects Washington cornerback Josh Norman, although Newton used less descriptive language than his former teammate did in describing their relationship.
In Observer columnist Scott Fowler’s book, “Panthers Rising,” Norman said he and Newton had a mutual respect as teammates, although they didn’t really talk. The always-quotable Norman called it a “sniffing kind of respect.”
“You know when two dogs sniff and they know what’s good and then they go their different ways? And don’t really play with each other? Like that,” Norman said. “I just wanted to one-up him, and he just wanted to one-up me.”
Newton broke up laughing Wednesday when he heard about Norman’s “sniffing” comments.
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“Josh has got some weird analogies. That’s what you’ve got to love to hate, but that’s him,” Newton said. “I respect Josh. Our relationship goes way beyond the game of football.”
Newton and Norman will square off from different sidelines for the first time Monday night in Washington.
The two had a training camp fight last year after Norman intercepted Newton and showboated on his way to the end zone. Newton didn’t care to revisit the fight Wednesday, but said he and Norman regularly challenged each other at practice, as well as in basketball and card games.
Newton conceded he’ll likely throw Norman’s way Monday strictly for ego’s sake. But he doesn’t want to make it too personal.
“I have to control that beast more than anything,” he said.
Norman played four seasons in Charlotte after the Panthers drafted him in the fifth round out of Coastal Carolina in 2012. He showed flashes of greatness during his first training camp, making four interceptions during one practice as a rookie in Spartanburg.
But Panthers coach Ron Rivera remembers that day as an example of Norman’s habit of playing outside the scheme early in his career.
“There’s where you saw the potential and the ability. But a lot of that was on gambling, on taking high risk,” Rivera said. “There’s a risk and reward and that’s one of the things about playing a team game.”
Rivera said part of Norman’s stubbornness stemmed from being the best defensive player in a small-school program. Norman was benched in 2013 after he blew a coverage on a game-winning touchdown in Buffalo, and again in 2014.
Rivera was impressed with the way Norman responded to the benchings.
“He did the things he needed to do to make himself better. There’s some guys that would take it differently and would pout. He didn’t,” Rivera said. “He took it the right way and look at where he is today.”
That would be Washington, where he received a five-year, $75-million contract a few days after Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman rescinded Norman’s franchise tag in April.
The decision shocked players and coaches, who didn’t see it coming.
“I don’t think anybody knew that was going to happen except for people upstairs,” fullback Mike Tolbert said. “It’s something that we couldn’t control and we don’t care to control. We’re football players.”
Tolbert played with Norman’s older brother at Coastal Carolina and remains close with his ex-Panthers teammate.
“Would I have liked to have him on my team? Yeah. Am I happy that he went and got the money he deserved? Yes,” Tolbert said. “So I think it was a win-win for everybody.”
Norman is scheduled to speak with Charlotte-area reporters Thursday on a conference call that figures to be entertaining.
‘Thrives on attention’
Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin mentioned Norman’s love of the media spotlight, and Newton made a similar reference as well.
“For people that don’t really know Josh, I think he’s a person that thrives on attention,” Newton said. “I think you have to have that when you get into the professional realm of football.”
During the Panthers’ Super Bowl season of 2015, Norman shadowed some of the league’s best receivers in Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Odell Beckham Jr. He had a knack for not only holding them in check, but – in the cases of Bryant and Beckham – getting inside their heads.
Benjamin said he expects Norman to cover him wherever he lines up Monday, but thinks the trash-talking will be muted because he and Norman were teammates.
“I think it’ll be different,” Benjamin said. “He probably pretty (much) just hates those (other) guys.”
Norman has kept tabs on his old team.
He was in Charlotte in October to visit cornerback Bené Benwikere after he’d been waived. (Washington was among the teams that put a claim in on Benwikere.)
A couple of people claim to have spotted Norman at the Panthers-Bucs Monday night game on Oct. 11, which Norman would neither confirm nor deny in a text message to the Observer.
The feeling about his former teammates is one of respect for Norman – “sniffing” or otherwise.
“I think he’s holding his own this year. He got his money and he’s holding his own,” Benjamin said. “He’s playing ball, having fun with it. Nothing wrong with that.”