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Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Norman called DB meeting to reset expectations

October 14, 2018 - 7:55 pm
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By Craig Hoffman

 

Josh Norman called a meeting Tuesday with his fellow defensive backs. The Redskins star corner had blown a coverage for a long touchdown thanks to miscommunication in a second consecutive game Monday night. He followed it up by getting in a Twitter war with Saints WR Michael Thomas.

That was followed by criticism on 106.7 The Fan’s Sports Junkies from former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly and, more hurtful to Norman, his former teammate DeAngelo Hall.

There were things that needed to be said to his teammates, and for the first time in a long time, Norman was ready to say them.

“I wanted them to know that everything we do, we do it as a unit, as a group,” Norman said at the podium after Sunday’s game. “Regardless of outside noise outside of us, we’ve got to come together now. This is the time when men are made to be great.”

The meeting was far more than a rah-rah rally, though. It was a deep airing of what was described to The Fan by one secondary member as “the elephant, well elephants really, in the room.”

"Do you really love your teammates? Are you there for your teammates? Things like that,” fellow cornerback Quinton Dunbar later explained. “I feel like when we had that talk, especially in the DB room, it was a reality check to really look at yourself in the mirror.

“You can't really go out and produce if it's fake love. We had that talk the day we came in, on Tuesday.”

Norman addressed what Hall had said, spinning it to a positive. He believes in the young players next to him, and knew his spotlight would shine on them if they played well together. He owned his mistakes, was open to criticism and started down the path to helping them play well together.

“We have the opportunity to be great because we have guys in that room that can do it, Norman said post-game. “Now we’ve got to man up and it starts with me. It starts with me and what we do and how we do it and how we lead those guys.”

"J-No called (the meeting) and said we had to change what we was doing,” safety D.J. Swearinger told reporters after the win. “Whatever we was doing in the previous weeks, it wasn't working. So we came together and locked in--really locked in--and it made it personal for us each day. It showed out there and in crunch time, we made some plays and had a full-team win."

The Redskins secondary room is young. Norman is in his third season in Washington. Only two others in that room, Dunbar and safety Dashazor Everett, are in more than their second season here. That includes defensive backs coach Torrian Gray.

This was described as, far and away, Norman’s grandest display of leadership in the two years this group has been together.

For as high profile he is in the media, which came to full bloom this week with Hall’s “Hollywood” assertion, Norman has been reserved with his teammates. As other defensive backs were close, Norman would often isolate himself.

It wasn’t so much that he was a negative force week in and week out, but he wasn’t present in a way that builds the camaraderie needed to succeed in the NFL, especially at a position where communication from sideline-to-sideline is at a premium.

A teammate described the meeting Tuesday as having a quiet friend in a large group finally speak up. Maybe he’s friends with some in the group, but normally he sits around with his head down. When he finally opens up and talks about things that are important to him, everyone feels closer.

By the end of Tuesday, the Redskins defensive backs felt closer.

What ensued was the best week of practice the unit has had all year. The communication was taken to a different level. Ironically, the best week prior to this week was leading into the Saints game, though that crashed and burned on Saturday, as the unit struggled in the team’s last practice before leaving for Louisiana.

This week, the sustained level of energy was higher and it carried all the way through the week.

"It was definitely more business,” Swearinger said. “I could feel the energy and the level of urgency. We've just got to stay consistent in that approach. We've got to stay consistent in that approach."

Even before learning of the meeting, it was clear to those around the team that something was different.

The defensive backs were much more demonstrative with their signals this week. They double and triple checked with each other to make sure they were on the same page. The result was allowing just 204 yards before entering prevent defense on Carolina’s final drive, where the Redskins gave up 65 through the air but held Cam Newton and company out of the end zone.

The result was also the Josh Norman that the Redskins paid for.

He created two turnovers. The first was a gift from Newton, who was facing pressure as he lobbed a duck in Norman’s direction. “I wouldn’t have let God’s angels take that away if they were up there with me,” Norman said after the game.

The second was classic Norman.

Panthers receiver D.J. Moore beat Dunbar on a crossing route he turned upfield, but he never saw Norman. The former All-Pro came flying down to punch the ball out and linebacker Mason Foster recovered it for the Redskins.

After both takeaways, Norman was mobbed by his teammates.

“In this league, you’re always under a microscope,” Dunbar said. “We’re all human. When you get all the fans and analysts down-talking you, we’re human too.

“If you don’t have (your teammates) on your side, who do you have on your side? We’re together 24-7, at least during the season, so we’ve gotta pick each other up.”

“We needed that from him, he needed that for himself, and we needed to see that as a group,” Swearinger added. “Any time we're making plays, any time the group is making plays, it's fun and it's good to celebrate that as a group. If you're not making plays, it's no fun.”

The next step is doing it again. Someone who was in the room for the meeting said the new feel around the secondary was forged in a way that should lead to more consistency.

Not only do teammates feel like they could call Norman out if need be, but they also feel they would react well to Norman staying on them.

He’s now proven himself, not only in the meeting room, but on the field.

“Everybody was throwing him in the, y'know, ‘whatever whatever’ with all the media,” Swearinger said. “But he came out and performed as he should. The thing is consistency. If we get that from him every week, we're gonna be hard to beat.”

He’s going to need his teammates, too. They know it, he knows it and they all seem to be more than OK with it. He’s got their back. They’ve got his.

“Let’s be honest man, who really challenges Josh Norman like that?” a smiling Quinton Dunbar rhetorically asked. “Who really go at him four, five, six times in a row? In reality, I’m the one over there getting all the action still! So how’s the dude falling off when they’re not even really throwing the ball to him like that?”

“They’re all buying in and I just want to see them succeed so bad now,” Norman said. “And the things that we went through I can share with them and they can share with me.

“We can all communicate and be on the same level. And that’s what we had conversations about – nothing more than that and nothing less. That was pretty much the point.”

 

Follow Redskins reporter Craig Hoffman and 106.7 The Fan