CCU’s Norman finds niche in Panthers’ nickel package

The Carolina Panthers hit training camp with doubts about their own secondary, but the answer to their concerns has emerged in the form of a familiar face, nickel cornerback Josh Norman.

The second-year player out of Coastal Carolina held his own in Carolina’s preseason opener, and his re-emergence could be vital for Carolina this season.

The 2012 fifth-round pick started his first 12 games as a rookie, but coverage issues sent him to the bench. And after the Panthers brought in veteran help in the form of Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore this offseason, Norman became a bit of an afterthought.

But Norman started in the Panthers nickel defense Friday, and he made a big impression immediately by intercepting Jay Cutler on Chicago’s first play from scrimmage. Then in the third quarter, Norman picked off Matt Blanchard and zig-zagged his way 60 yards into the end zone. But he didn’t stop there.

“I minored in dramatic arts. I like to have fun,” Norman said. “I said that the first time I ever touch the end zone, I want to get up in the stands. I’ve seen it on TV, so I thought, “Why not?'”

Norman’s leap into the Bank of America Stadium stands could perhaps start a new Panthers touchdown trend. For example, QB Cam Newton already calls himself Superman, so it would almost seem natural to see him fly up into the first couple rows.

Newton’s performance against the Bears wasn’t super-heroic, but it wasn’t awful, either. Essentially, it was what the Panthers have seen from him over his first two seasons – inconsistent.

Newton played three series, hitting on 3 of his 6 passes for 16 yards. Norman’s first interception gave the Panthers a short field, and Newton took advantage with a three-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell.

Head coach Ron Rivera could have taken his QB out of the game on a high note, but he instead gave Newton a third series, which ended when Bears LB Jonathan Bostic returned a bad decision into a 51-yard interception return.

“Offensively, I liked how we moved the ball. We were consistent at one point, and then Cam got a little greedy,” Rivera said. “He could have just turned and thrown an easy check down, but he tried to force the ball in. It was a mistake, and he knows. I thought 12 of his 13 plays were what you’re looking for from your quarterback.”

And while it’s foolish to put too much stock into too much from a preseason game, it has to be at least a little disconcerting for the Panthers to see Newton continue to ride his in-game roller coaster. All too often during his first couple seasons he showed flashes of brilliance, only to supersede those with mistakes like Friday night’s forced throw.

Since that was his last play of the game, Newton didn’t get a chance to redeem himself. Instead, he has to wait until Thursday night against the Eagles.

“I begged and pleaded so that I could get one more series. I’m going home with an interception as my last throw, and that’s disgusting,’ Newton said.

“You have to live and learn and I think it’s keeping me anxious for this upcoming preseason game at Philadelphia.”

Photo by Joel Beachum

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