- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

ASHBURN | Finally, Week 3 of the 2016 NFL season has arrived. New York Giants versus Washington Redskins, or, more compellingly, Redskins cornerback Josh Norman versus Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

When Norman signed a $75 million contract with the Redskins, an immediate secondary consideration was that the deal brought him into the same division as Beckham. Twice a season, likely for multiple years, this duo that sniped at each other during the offseason after fighting on it, would be on the field together. It was like scheduling a hurricane in advance.

When Norman extracted his mouthguard Wednesday in order to deliver the words everyone waited for, there was a range of possibilities around what he would say. He could grouse about Beckham hitting him in the head last season. Or make an ego-first proclamation. Recycle his offseason bickering with Beckham that occurred through various channels. Instead, he chose to spread fire retardant, much like his coach, teammates, and Beckham’s coach and teammates.

“God tells us to forgive all, so I’m working on that,” Norman said. “But I have moved past it. That was last year and I think that things that happened in the past stay in the past, whether they’re here or not. I’m sure he didn’t want it to happen just like everybody else didn’t, but it did. Our feelings about it really doesn’t matter, to be honest with you. It’s another week, it’s a new opponent, fresh game plan going out there and trying to attack it the best we possibly can. I don’t really look too much into that.”

He acknowledged Beckham is a “really good player” when asked for a scouting report, adding, “No hate whatsoever, man. The guy can play ball.”

But it’s unlikely the duo is about to plan a day trip to hop on a merry-go-round together. Norman said he has not talked to Beckham since they grappled in Week 15 of last season. When asked if he would prefer to follow Beckham throughout the game, Norman said, “Heck, yeah. Why not?” It is the same answer he has provided through the first two weeks whenever his on-field positioning comes up. Norman has been consistent in saying he will do what the coaches ask him to do. But, as any competitive person would, he would also be happy matched against the opposition’s top guy. He’s unsure how the Redskins will deploy him this Sunday.

The last meeting between the two produced mayhem. Norman and Beckham moved from the initial facemask-to-facemask arguing that can pervade the league to untoward exchanges. Both appeared to take a swing at each the other. Beckham once pivoted, then sprinted to spear Norman in the head with his helmet. It was a dangerous and volatile decision, one that pushed Norman even further into a rage and made television announcers wonder why Beckham was not thrown out of the game. Beckham was lated suspended one game.

Stack the exchange into a long line of receiver-cornerback dustups. They usually don’t reach the volcanic stage Norman and Beckham did, though they have in the past. When Deion Sanders strutted around Atlanta as “Primetime” he was teammates with wide receiver Andre Rison for four seasons. Sanders left Atlanta for San Francisco in 1994. In Week 7 of that season, the 49ers crushed the Falcons, 42-3. Sanders returned an interception 93 yards for a touchdown. He also jammed Rison at the line, grabbed his jersey and started punching him in the second quarter.

One of Norman’s new teammates, DeAngelo Hall, was involved in ferocious exchanges with wide receiver Steve Smith when Hall was in Atlanta and Smith was playing for the Carolina Panthers. In 2007, Hall’s temper pushed him past the point of composure and competitiveness. Hall was flagged for three penalties on the Panthers’ game-tying drive, then went on a sideline tirade. Carolina knew coming into the game Hall would be primed to oppose Smith, though it did not influence its plan.

“We didn’t change what we did,” former Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme said in a recent interview. “We were going to run our plays. Certainly, DeAngelo, he’s a good athlete and all that. It was never something, it wasn’t a focal point. DeAngelo liked to talk a little bit, no doubt about that. And Steve was always very ready and willing to respond. I do recall that game when he had the meltdown. It was unbelievable. It was fantastic. It was like 45 yards it gave us.”

Late in the preseason, Hall discussed the balance between ferocity and errors that cost the team, and how he will be in tune with what’s happening around Norman. Washington is already 0-2 following two home losses. The Giants, like the Philadelphia Eagles, are 2-0 to begin the season.

“There’s a fine line,” Hall said. “There’s nothing you can sit here and say and think that’s how it’s going to be. It’s going to be something that kind of happens situation by situation. You’ve got to approach each situation differently and kind of go from there.

“It’s kind of hard to really answer that question not having experienced it yet. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But, the thing about it, we’ve got a lot of guys in this lockerroom who have been through a lot of different things and I think it helps him out tremendously along the way, along the process. Leading up to games and in games. We want guys to be themselves, be fiery, do what motivates them and allows them to succeed, but at the same time, we don’t want it to be a detriment to the team.”

New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo said on Wednesday’s conference call that he spoke to Beckham about last season’s altercation, terming it a “one-time deal” between two competitive players. McAdoo chose to keep the contents of their conversation to himself Giants quarterback Eli Manning also tried to temper the discussion, explaining the Giants have to deal with the entire Washington team. Redskins coach Jay Gruden? Add him to the boat.

“I think that happened last year on another team with a different situation,” Gruden said. “This is a brand new year, he’s on a brand new team. He understands his importance to this defense. Odell I’m sure understands his importance to the New York Giants, and I think that’s in the past, quite frankly. I don’t think anything has to be said or done. I think they’ll be fine. It’s football.”

It was supposed to be football last season. Yet, it turned into something else. Only Beckham and Norman can make sure there is no out-of-hand repeat.

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