- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2019

ASHBURN — Josh Norman has had a busy offseason. The Redskins cornerback went to Flint, Michigan to deliver water bottles to residents in need. He handed out blankets and supplies with Saints linebacker Demario Davis to migrants and asylum seekers near the U.S.-Mexico border. He even rode in a jet with the Blue Angels.

Norman, as he likes to remind people, is more than a football player.

“I can’t hide or try to run from that,” he said.

But when Norman returned to the Redskins for mandatory minicamp, the 31-year-old was active on the field. He often chatted with his new defensive backs coach Ray Horton. He traded playful jabs with coach Jay Gruden.

His most notable moment, however, came Thursday — picking off quarterback Dwayne Haskins in the end zone, running all the way to the other end zone for the pick-six. It was his second interception at minicamp, and a further reminder of how good Norman can be.

After last season, some wondered if the Redskins would look to move on from Norman after he completed his third year of a five-year, $75 million deal that made him the highest-paid corner in the NFL. Gruden, too, said at the owners’ meetings it would be “far-fetched” to think Norman had performed as the league’s best corner during his time with the Redskins.

Gruden, though, said Thursday the Redskins “need” Norman.

“He’s a great competitor,” Gruden said. “That’s what makes him great. You know, he may not have the speed that you might want to see at corner. He may not have certain things, but the one thing that sets him apart from everybody else is competitiveness. … He’s just got to step up his game at all times, but he’s an excellent football player. I think [he’s] very underrated in people’s eyes.”

Gruden defended his relationship with Norman, which hasn’t always been smooth. Last year, Norman was benched to start the second half in Week 5 against the New Orleans Saints after the cornerback failed to take off his headphones at halftime while Gruden tried to address the team.

Norman, Gruden says, is at his best when challenged. That was evident in 2018 when a week after the Saints game, Norman responded with an interception and forced fumble against the Carolina Panthers, his former team. Norman’s performance helped quiet storylines that included Saints receiver Michael Thomas calling the cornerback washed up and DeAngelo Hall, a former teammate, saying Norman was too consumed with being a celebrity.

Norman finished last season with six turnovers created (three interceptions, three forced fumbles) — his most in a Redskins uniform. In December, Norman said he felt like he was having one of the best seasons of his career.

But fans and the Redskins have wanted more. Gruden said in March that he wanted to see Norman raise his play to “superstar status.”

The Redskins think Horton, who was hired in January, can help consistently challenge Norman. Norman was highly complimentary of his new position coach, telling reporters that he was sold on Horton.

Asked how he plans to get the most out of Norman, Horton said he wants to focus on the veteran’s weaknesses and find ways to improve them.

“What he needs to do is probably come back and act like he’s a rookie … again,” Horton said, “and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to prove myself all over again.’”

Occasionally, the scrutiny related to his play can irritate Norman. He told reporters his charitable work can go unnoticed, or put to the side, because “something negative comes out.” People can misjudge him, he said.

“What they say is ‘He’s a controversial guy. He’s on the field. He’s playing football. He’s always in it with someone,’” Norman said. “But … you really don’t know me. You really don’t. And the thing is, once you see all the stuff that I do and I post it and I put up and I go out and serve others, that’s who I really am.”

Norman likely won’t attend Washington’s voluntary OTA sessions next week. His busy summer isn’t over. He’s in the process of helping build a teen center in his hometown of Greenwood, South Carolina. And in July, Norman also plans to go to Afghanistan.

Gruden would like Norman at practice. He said he wished Norman would have attended the team’s earlier sessions, but understood because they were voluntary.

“When he’s here in the secondary, we’re better,” Gruden said. “He’s a physical corner, he created turnovers last year for us and he’s a good player. We’re going to have some issues from time to time where we don’t see eye-to-eye, but he’s got to understand I am the head coach and what I say goes.

“Not everybody believes that all the time but that’s usually the case,” he said with a laugh. “Especially him, but I like Josh. I like where he’s at. … We see what type of difference he makes.”

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