- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2016

RICHMOND — Josh Norman’s black-and-white soccer ball is a new tool. He dribbles it around at Washington Redskins training camp, drawing looks and prompting conversation. He decided to bring it along to unwind the grind on occasion. The well-compensated, impassioned Norman is also using it as an icebreaker.

“Who knows?” Norman said. “[Maybe] it’s something that sparks a good relationship and a friendship can develop from it.”

He began to work himself into his new world during organized team activities. That the Redskins signed him was still a surprise then, one of the offseason’s great league-wide rumbles. Washington worked a $75 million deal for a cornerback few thought would leave the Carolina Panthers the season after a Super Bowl appearance. Even less thought he would be in Ashburn if he did depart.

SEE ALSO: Training camp observations: Josh Norman, DeSean Jackson match up

The Redskins have been in camp for three days, during which Norman has been deciphering his new existence. Topics include DeSean Jackson’s staggering speed, life with stacks of cash, and a chance to sleep in a hotel room instead of a dorm during camp which suppresses his allergy problems.

“It’s just like going to a new school,” Norman said. “You’ve got to make new friends all over again. But, for me, I think it was easy because I was open. I was here to listen. Just because I got paid and I’m one of the highest paid guys on the squad, it’s no different. I don’t feel like I’ve got the money, to be honest with you, because I’m still working. I’m still trying to be better at something, man. What it is, I don’t know yet, but I’m still trying to climb and elevate my level of play.”

Usually, Norman is tracking his opponent. It’s a natural disposition for a cornerback. Since last December when Norman and New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. turned a game into an at times dangerous afternoon of grappling, Beckham has been following him. Beckham claimed that Norman became “so relevant” because of their much maligned Sunday together last season. So, naturally, Norman was again asked Friday afternoon about Beckham talking about him. At first, he laughed.

“I don’t know what to say about that,” Norman said. “I don’t know. I guess if a guy talks about you that much, you must be doing something right. Means nothing to me, obviously, ‘cause the same fact, he’s talking about me, but I am not talking about him. So, it’s kind of like, ‘Well, dang.’ If he once was the hunter and now you’re the hunted. Why am I talking about you? For what? So I have nothing to say because now we are the hunter not the hunted.”

Norman appears more focused on another receiver. Jackson has been lined up across from Norman in several one-on-one drills early in camp. Already, Norman is trying to figure out tactics the elusive Jackson uses against him — particularly after facing the larger receivers of the NFC South. Jackson’s speed, Norman said, is “elite.” But, it’s not just a straight-line complication. Jackson also darts in and out of his breaks.

“He’s like Flash out there, so I mean his elusiveness is off the charts,” Norman said.

Norman’s long arms have been among the reasons he’s included among the best at his position in the league. Against Jackson, learning when to jab the smaller receiver with a hand is among the things Norman is trying to figure out.

“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 reacts off the defender,” Norman said. “So, I’ve got to be better at being patient, 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.”

Norman is less than two months away from his first divisional tussle with Beckham. The next few weeks, he’ll work against Jackson, try to make new friends and pass the soccer ball to whoever is willing to receive it. Then, the real season will begin.

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