- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

ASHBURN — Josh Norman has already gotten a jump on his battles with the wide receivers of the NFC East this year.

He thinks Odell Beckham Jr. puts on a fake tough-guy act. Dez Bryant is washed up.

“Trust me when I tell you, it’s going to be bad blood this year,” Norman said in a magazine interview with Bleacher Report. “You think the NFC East didn’t like each other before? This year right here? There’s going to be a lot of fines and maybe some suspensions.”

Early last season, Norman’s challenges to top wideouts were tempered by the fact that he wasn’t always covering them. It has already been made clear that this year is different. The Redskins cornerbacks, and yes, that means Norman, will shadow wide receivers.

“There is some people – from the perspective of a corner — it’s hard for them to travel at times, but will we do that? Yeah,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said.

OK, so that’s not a promise written in blood to superglue Norman to the back of Odell Beckham Jr.’s jersey (wouldn’t that be fun) but it’s also a deviation from how the Redskins began last season under coordinator Joe Barry.

In Week 1 of last year playing the Steelers, the Redskins mostly used Bashaud Breeland to cover Antonio Brown. It didn’t work very well, and Brown caught eight passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins loss.

Washington was criticized for sticking with the matchup but, still, didn’t put Norman on Dez Bryant at all times the following week against Dallas. Bryant’s line: seven catches for 102 yards.

The ‘have corners, will travel’ philosophy isn’t always the right one. Manusky believes that he has the necessarily personnel to match up when it’s the right thing to do, but it won’t always be that way.

“Yeah, I think depending upon who we’re playing and who we want to travel and who we want to match. Yeah, sometimes you want to put that better player maybe on their lesser player and try to double the other guy.”

Norman and Breeland have, as expected, worked as the starting corners in offseason practices open to the media. The Redskins also have high hopes for their third-round draft pick Fabian Moreau, who is expected to be fully recovered from a torn pectoral muscle sometime between the start of training camp and the start of the season.

Better safety help, which Washington has reason to believe it will get, would also make a difference. Adding a strong player in D.J. Swearinger to play free safety should help minimize some of the big plays top receivers made against the Redskins last season. Allowing the cornerbacks to play off more should also have that effect.

Manusky thinks Norman, in particular, will do well playing off more.

“I think just from a football perspective, he feels it and he knows it. And I think they’re the players that you want on the field and that’s what he has,” Manusky said. “He has that feel for it, and when the ball is coming out, he can break on it.”

The NFC East is home to many of the most famous receivers in football. Beckham. Bryant. New Eagle Alshon Jeffery.

Defense would have been the Redskins’ major offseason concern in any division. Given some of the talents they face twice per year, it was even more of a priority.

“Well, it has a major influence, not to mention, we were not very good on third downs last year, which we need to get better on third downs,” coach Jay Gruden said.

Say it’s third and long. What’s a quarterback to do? Often, throw to his best receiver, or his favorite receiver. If the Redskins think their best chance of stopping him is to match a corner up with that receiver wherever he goes, they won’t hesitate to do so. And who doesn’t like a fight between heavyweights?

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