Smith, Norman have a history
Ex-Panthers teammates who battled in practices could face off Sunday
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman did the unexpected Wednesday. The two outspoken personalities mostly bit their tongues when asked about their potential matchup Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
But at least one Raven, who has always enjoyed a good one-on-one duel, whether it’s on screen or on the football field, couldn’t help but smile when pondering Smith versus Norman.
“That is going to be kind of fun,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “These t eams don’t have bad blood, [but] it’s always exciting to see two competitors go at it. I’m not sure if it’s going to be one of those Odell Beckham-Norman kinds of things, but it should be good.”
Smith and Norman are the two biggest lightning rods on their teams, and they have a history. The two were Carolina Panthers teammates in 2012 and 2013, and had a few heated exchanges in practice. Neither player elaborated on them in interviews Wednesday.
“It was very intense,” Norman said in a conference call with Baltimore-area reporters. “Those were intense to the point where I’m sure if you’ll do your research, you’ll find out how intense they were.”
As a Panthers rookie in 2012, Norman was vocal about the job he did in covering Smith in organized team activities and minicamp, prompting the wide receiver to say, “Once late July, August comes, he’s going to learn very quickly this isn’t Coastal Carolina. I look forward Sunday, 1 p.m. TV: Chs. 45, 5 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 4
When he faced Norman and the Panthers in September 2014 in a lopsided Ravens victory, Smith caught seven passes for 139 yards and two scores, and bragged about running past defenders as if they were “schoolyard kids.” Norman did not spent much time defending Smith that afternoon.
In an on-air appearance with ESPN in January, Smith said Norman was a “good player … not a great player.” However, in front of his locker Wednesday, Smith referred to Norman, who signed a five-year, $75 million contract with the Redskins in April, as “one of the few elite corners in the game.”
“I just know him as Josh. I remember the young guy coming in,” Smith said. “I kind of see the person. I don’t really pay attention to all the other stuff. I’m just going to have fun and as they say, play out my days and just enjoy ball.
“It’s no need to make it about two individuals. If the center doesn’t snap the ball, a lineman doesn’t block, a quarterback doesn’t throw, a receiver is obsolete. It’s really about focusing on what we need to improve on as a team. We came out there and stunk it up for about two or three quarters [against the Oakland Raiders]. To make it about Josh and all this stuff, this isn’t about Josh. This is about the Baltimore Ravens playing better football for four quarters in all three phases of the game.”
There, of course, is no certainty that Smith and Norman will spend a lot of time matched up against each other Sunday. Norman normally sticks on the left side, and if coach Jay Gruden didn’t have the star cornerback shadow the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Antonio Brown earlier this year, it seems unlikely he’d have him do it against Smith, who traditionally lines up in various spots.
“I’m going to do anything Coach asks me to do,” Norman said. “I really don’t know at this point in time. It’s still early in the week.”
Smith, 37, wondered on his conference call with Washington-area reporters why Norman, 28, would match up with an “old … receiver like me.”
It’s inevitable, though, that the two former teammates will get together on the field at some point, and their history and personalities are a good indication it will be a matchup worth watching during and after the play.
Both players have a history of not “It’s no need to make it about two individuals,” Ravens’ Steve Smith Sr. said. only not backing down from confrontations but initiating them. Smith has gotten into it with teammates and opponents alike, and his body of work includes a postgame confrontation with Jacksonville Jaguars rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey in Week 3. Smith was ejected during a 2015 preseason game against the Redskins after a scuffle with cornerback Chris Culliver.
“Shoot, his competitive drive is what makes him who he is. That’s what makes him go. Obviously, you can see that on the field. He plays like a defensive player playing offense. That’s kind of got him where he is if you ask me,” Norman said, maintaining that he respects Smith and has a good relationship with him. “I grew up playing him. Trust me, I’m very much doctored in that.”
Norman, however, said he wouldn’t hesitate to talk trash with Smith, which should come as no surprise.
The cornerback’s fight with thenPanthers teammate quarterback Cam Newton in the summer of 2015 got Norman national attention.
That, along with his feud with the New York Giants’ Beckham and his emergence as one of the game’s best cornerbacks, has made Norman a household name. “It was very intense,” Josh Norman said of heated exchanges with Smith.
Each week seemingly brings another headline with Norman, whether it’s his public criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, his matchup with Beckham or his celebratory bow-and-arrow celebration Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. The gesture reportedly earned him a $10,000 fine.
“He is a grown man; he can do whatever he wants,” Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace said of Norman. “On the field, I think he’s a great player. He just has a really good feel for the game..”
Both coaches — the Ravens’ John Harbaugh and the Redskins’ Jay Gruden — didn’t sound concerned that the potential matchup will result in any extracurricular activity.
For his part, Smith said he and his offensive teammates have bigger concerns.
“People come in there and expect us to play well, and we have not played that way,” he said. “That is where the frustration is. I think at times we have kind of played down or played with one hand tied behind our back, where we should have been playing on all cylinders going full speed and minimizing mistakes, but we haven’t.”