RICHMOND, Va. – The tricky part is the speed. DeSean Jackson has plenty of it — still — and cornerback Josh Norman isn’t used to covering smaller, faster players. So you’ll see him get driven back, making sure he’s not getting beaten deep, as Jackson catches a pass underneath. And you’ll see him get twisted a little as he learns how to handle Jackson at the line.
It’s part of what training camp is for: adjusting. In Norman’s first camp with Washington, one big adjustment involves covering players such as Jackson. It makes for an entertaining matchup during practice, especially in one-on-one work.
Jackson isn’t beating Norman all the time and the corner has taken away the deep ball. But for Norman, the quest is learning how to deal with a small, fast receiver such as Jackson. It’s not as if there are many like him: Jackson is listed at 5-foot-10 (a bit generous) and in the last two years combined, his 19.73 yards per catch leads all other wideouts by nearly two yards. For most of his time in Carolina, Norman said the NFC South typically featured bigger receivers such as Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Marques Colston. Jackson requires an adjustment for any corner.
“Guys, he’s elite. His speed is elite,” Norman said. “He’s like Flash out there. I mean, his elusiveness is just off the charts.”
The Redskins made Norman the NFL’s highest-paid corner in April, giving him an average of $15 million per season. So he knows he must figure out how to defend any sort of receiver. It comes with the financial territory. But Norman appears to like the chess match aspect of this matchup.
“Being able to match up with a guy like that each and every time posted one-on-one is only going to make me better because if he beats me, he beats me,” Norman said. “He beats me, I’m going to try and figure that thing out until it like draws in my head because for me it’s like finding that edge, finding that way to where I win, you know? [If] he beats me on this play, I’m coming back trying to find out how he beat me that first play. So I can come back and look at it like, ‘Let me beat him now.’”
Redskins coach Jay Gruden, when asked about this pairing, said competition “makes us a better team.” Of course it does. And that extends to every position, as Gruden noted. The more competition, the more a starter is pushed, the better a team should perform. But some matchups stand out and the corners vs. the receivers qualify. It’s true, too, when Bashaud Breeland faces Pierre Garcon. Both are physical players.
But the one to watch remains Norman and Jackson.
“We’re here to get better, make each other better,” Jackson said. “Have a little fun, talking, just kind of communicating, going back and forth a little bit.”
Jackson is used to facing bigger corners; Norman’s adjustment is greater.
“He is a special talent,” Norman said. “He has rare, blazing speed and his routes he’s getting better at when he’s coming back to the ball — his slants and stuff. So for me, seeing a wide receiver in this division like that is going to be, you know, exceptional for me. Coming from the [NFC] South where we face giants, it’s a bit different. So, now just being better with that and understanding to use my tools where I can be physical and where I can’t be … I can’t wait for that challenge.”
It’s not as if Norman will face a steady diet of small, fast receivers in the NFC East. Still, adjusting to that style is part of what drives Norman in camp.
Norman said he must be more patient facing Jackson. The problem is, if you’re too patient, then Jackson can burn a corner. Breeland found that out Friday when he was patient as Jackson started on his route, but then was caught flat-footed as he sped past.
When Jackson isn’t aligned on the line, Norman said it makes it tougher because it’s harder to use his long arms.
“So I’ve got to be patient in that and work that patience because he’s one of those guys that he’ll want to see a defender strike first and wait on him to make a move and then he react off of the defender,” Norman said. “And once I’m patient and understand what he wants to give me, then I can play to my strengths and use my tools to combat that. But, like I said, how many guys do we see in the NFL to try to go against like that? I mean, the combination of speed and his elusive abilities is just off the charts.”
And that helps Norman.
“I’m not going to make every single play,” Norman said. “But the ones I do make, and when I do get beat, it’s how you come back from that.”