Josh Norman nearly had the interception. The ball slapped both of his palms and fell to the ground, a potential turnover that turned into a pass deflection, preventing wide receiver Josh Doctson from a 10-yard gain.
It’s a missed opportunity that Norman addressed in as many words after the second day of training camp practice, vaguely referencing the need to tighten up the “little things” as he enters his seventh year in the NFL. Interceptions eluded him last season – a product of fewer footballs thrown in his area – but as Norman will tell you, there were still plenty he didn’t capitalize on.
“You get lazy because you get into those routes, you feel like it’s over because you’re right there, but it’s just that six inches that – it’s from making a play to not making a play,” Norman said of Friday’s practice. “Our hands were on the ball but Doc [Josh Doctson] said he saw me breaking down on him and he grabbed my head, but it’s all good, touching hands, DB rules you got to have it.
“For me, it's just working on the little things,” Norman added. “Being in place is the first part but finishing the ball should be something that already is established and ingrained in you. So, finishing those plays that are out there for us, when you're in position each and every time I try and work on that. Now, it's just taking it to another level."
Training camp takes on that kind of purpose for a veteran player such as Norman. Instead of worrying about flashing on the field, about roster spots and calculating rep amounts, Norman is in a position to refine technique – to sharpen the tools that have allowed him to become one of the premier corners in the game.
It’s also allowed him to notice the differences in the Redskins this year. So far, Norman is thrilled about the team’s defensive line, anchored by “those two studs right there in the middle that went to Alabama. Aw man, Roll Tide!” he said repeatedly. The less Norman has to worry about quarterbacks scrambling, the more he knows the defense’s success relies solely on the secondary’s ability to cover.
“Now it’s just the backend we’ve got to come together, make more plays on the football,” Norman said. “I think that’s what you know the keys to success for us, it’s just everyone being a collective group on the defense side of the ball.”
The Washington Redskins conducted their second day of training camp practice Saturday, July 28, 2018 at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va.
With age comes wisdom, and Norman has plenty to provide to the team’s young players. That extends past his position group (“That’s my little buddy,” Norman said of running back Derrius Guice. “We hang out. I try to keep him on the straight and narrow.”) but impacts the handful of defensive backs Norman has taken under his wing.
As he’s done throughout his two years with the team, Norman stays late after each practice, working on ball drills with those willing to comply to the demands of staying an additional 30 minutes in the heat. In his press conference, Norman specifically mentioned safety Fish Smithson, who worked out with him over the summer, and cornerback Danny Johnson as players he’s seen willing to reach out and ask questions. Between Norman and veteran corner Orlando Scandrick, there is plenty of opportunity to pick brains.
“Working under him [Norman] has been great because he’s been in the league for some years and it’s my first year here,” Johnson said. “Everything that he’s done to elevate his game, I’m just trying to find out, get under his wings and soak up the knowledge. Along with [Orlando] Scandrick, just him playing at nickel position and me playing it as well so I’m just trying to soak up everything I can from both of those guys.”
“All those guys, man, they look up to us,” Norman said. “You just want to put some good stuff out there for him.”
That’s supplied mostly in discerning those “little things” from every snap. Norman continues to realize his value as a teacher, which works in tandem with his own progression as a player. Whatever technique he establishes, leverage he gets, pass deflection he forces, it all receives another question on the sideline from a willing participant.
“That’s because they want to learn and they want to know,” Norman said. “Well did you do something wrong? Did you false step here? Or you could be better there. Those guys want to see them willing to learn and that’s when you know you can build something great there. We’re just putting in this hard work now towards it. I’m staying after practice, doing the little things before you can get better when we get into that game-time mode, that game time setting, be successful, that's all you can ask for."