When now ex-Panthers cornerback Josh Norman became available Wednesday, the Washington Redskins pounced. Clearly General Manager Scot McCloughan, coach Jay Gruden and others within the organization had watched enough film and had a good feel on the Pro Bowler. When the opportunity came, they were ready to take action. With the Redskins frugal or at least quiet in free agency up until this week, many scoffed at the idea that they would jump in aggressively for such a pricey defender. One five-year, $75 million contract later, Norman now wears burgundy and gold.
The splashy move seems like something from the Dan Snyder offseason playbook of the past, but it was mentioned here that McCloughan had done this before. The 49ers signed CB Nate Clements to an 8-year, $80 million deal in 2007, a record for any defender at the time, with McCloughan as GM. While he likes to build through the draft and isn't a frequent buyer in free agency, McCloughan will do so for the right player.
With less than a week away from the draft, I switched gears and found myself watching the 2015 Carolina Panthers season. I had to put on the tape to find out just what the Redskins were getting in Josh Norman.
Norman is aggressive in every sense of the word. He's a trash talker who has mentioned going to a "dark place" when he gets on the field. His aggressiveness isn't just in his verbal skills. His play style is aggressive as well. Norman played a bunch of coverages in Carolina but played mostly a Cover 3/Man Zone. This is the style that has made the "Legion of Boom" in Seattle so famous and McCloughan was there to witness it. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry runs a majority of Cover 3 as well so the transition should be seamless. Hopefully, Barry and secondary coach Perry Fewell take advantage of Norman's aggression. Basically, he was responsible with Carolina for the deep third like a typical Cover 3, but he gets up into a press position with outside technique.
Norman can get into a receiver's head here with his talking. The 6-foot-0 corner jolts and jacks up receivers at the line of scrimmage right off the snap, before bailing out and covering his deep third, then he surveys the route combinations and applies man coverage to whoever enters his zone. This proximity to the line of scrimmage helps him be a factor in many facets but the bailing out also makes him susceptible to slants and short in routes.
Read and React
To prevent receivers from getting jacked up off the line, offenses use receiver off the line of scrimmage and stack looks. Because Norman isn't afraid of getting beat deep, he stays within proximity of the line of scrimmage to prepare for anything at all three levels. Here, the Jaguars motion a running back out. Because Norman plays outside technique, he can always keep his eyes on the quarterback. The running back is running a speed out.
His eyes never come off the quarterback so when he goes to throw, Norman plants his back foot and drives on the route.
Norman undercuts the route and takes it to the end zone for a touchdown.
Once again, Norman has his eyes on the quarterback. Curl/Out combo route to his side.
Norman carries the curl route up but when he sees Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston's eyes, he plants his foot and drives on the ball.
Norman undercuts it and returns it for a touchdown.
On this play, Norman reads screen all the way. He is telling the safety to back up in case it's a fake screen and go.
As soon as the quarterback turns, Norman drives towards the receiver. He lays a big hit and makes a tackle for a loss of four yards.
Whether it's film study or communication, Norman knows it's a screen all the way.
Norman beats the block at the point of attack and tackles Julio Jones for a loss.
Josh Norman also shows adequate zone awareness. Because he's typically in a Cover 3 look, he doesn't follow many receivers across the field through traffic. Dez Bryant has a shallow cross and Norman is going to let him go.
Norman scans the field and realizes the shallow cross is designed to suck up the safety to open up the deep crosser over top. He immediately hits top gear to get underneath it.
Norman gets under the receiver and he is no longer an option.
Norman's aggressiveness can bite him sometimes. He is suppose to pick up the deepest man in his zone but because he lines up close to the line of scrimmage, he can sometimes lose track of the slot receiver especially if the better receiver is on the outside. I saw this in a few games. Cowboys running a hitch/sail concept.
When Norman sees Bryant break on the hitch route, he stops and the slot receiver runs by him.
Norman sees it late and receiver gives up on the route when he sees Romo go elsewhere with the ball. This may be a way teams attack Norman and take advantage of his aggressive style.
Of course, it's not like Josh Norman isn't aware of it. Broncos run the same concept here in the Super Bowl. Norman is actually deeper than usual because he faked a blitz at first and then bailed back.
When Norman sees the slot receiver continue, he plants his foot in the ground and drives on the ball.
Norman undercuts the route and almost comes away with an interception.
You've heard the term recovery speed but have you heard the term recovery length? If you follow my draft work, you've seen the trends of the Scot McCloughan defensive back: "depends on length over speed." Norman uses his length well. Here he's defending T.Y. Hilton who is a known speedster. Norman only ran a 4.66 at the combine yet he still plays him close to the line of scrimmage.
Hilton gets a step or two on Norman and Andrew Luck already has the ball in the air.
Norman fully extends at the catch point and knocks the ball away.
We're going to see Norman against Cowboys star Dez Bryant twice a year. Here's a preview.
Norman misses his jam, as he does from time to time, and Bryant gets a free release to the outside. Tony Romo turns around off play-action and launches the ball.
Norman recovers and stretches out to knock the ball away.
There is a lot to like about Josh Norman's game. He's an aggressive zone corner with good awareness and ball skills who should excel in Joe Barry's defense. He's a tone setter who brings a certain swagger with him. Scot McCloughan is trying to establish a winning culture in Washington and that's why he paid Josh Norman. A centerpiece on a team that made it to the Super Bowl and only lost once during the season, Norman should help as a leader because he knows what it takes to win.
Paul Conner is the Film Analyst and Draft Evaluator at Breaking Burgundy. You can follow him on Twitter @P_ConnerJr
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