*Josh Norman and Steve Smith Sr. played two seasons together in Carolina and the Redskins cornerback will likely matchup with his former teammate this Sunday. *
Another week, another intriguing matchup for Redskins cornerback Josh Norman.
The first quarter of the season has provided him opportunities against the league's best playmakers – Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., Terrelle Pryor Sr. – fostering week-long storylines about vendettas and recent personal histories, elite talents facing off in the primes of their careers.
This Sunday offers more of the same and a slight changeup, only because Norman will be taking on a very familiar opponent in Ravens veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., a former teammate of Norman's in Carolina from 2012-2013.
Competing and practicing against each other, Norman called their battles "epic," giving the cornerback a skilled firecracker to face off with each day.
"A lion against a lion; a dog against a dog; beast against a beast," Norman said of his matchups with Smith. "His will opposing upon mine, mine opposing on his. Trying to edge out and see who could get the best of each other that day. It was always trying to steal your food, eat your food. Take your dog plate kind of matchup. It was fun and definitely challenging."
Norman said he learned to fight vs. Smith and that every snap was a chance for the wide receiver to beat him, and then talk about doing so, giving Norman motivation to stay focused on each play. The only time they faced each other in different jerseys was in 2014, when Norman was the third cornerback of the Panthers' defensive unit and matched up with Smith a few times in Baltimore.
"We had tussles here and there, as expected," Norman said. "That guy will take your heart away from you if you allow him to… For me, I just know I have to be smart, and keen and cunning. Play the game."
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry hopes his defensive backs lean on Norman this week to get a better sense of Smith's ability, and maybe more importantly, his ability to get inside a defender's head.
"I've encouraged all of our DBs, you know, talk to Josh because you've got to have your mind right when you go against 89, because he's that type of player," Barry said. "He plays the game the way the game is supposed to be played. He's physical. He tries to mess with you a little bit, get in your head at times. But, he is the ultimate competitor. So I think it's nice that we have a guy like Josh that not only has played against him, but practiced against him, especially early on his career as a young player, so I think it's a benefit for us."
Smith seemed to be playing mind games with Norman already on a conference call this week. When asked about matching up with Norman on Sunday, Smith, who leads the Ravens with 281 yards receiving, jokingly questioned if he even should.
"I don't know why he'd match up with me – old-ass receiver – so, I mean, I am excited to play ball," Smith said. "You know, don't have a lot of these coming back, can't get any of these back, so I am excited to play every game."
To that response, Norman could only chuckle.
"He's starting already," Norman said. "I don't know if I'm going to get him the whole time or not. But like he said, he's an old receiver. I don't play those games."
Smith said he only remembers Norman as the cornerback just entering the league, "almost like a little brother," and not as one of the most talked about players in the sport.
"I just see him differently because I know the person," Smith said. "So, I mean, I am kind of biased. I don't really see him as what you guys see him because I've known him a lot longer.
"I remember when I was at Carolina after we had done the meetings, I'd come back in the room to the wide receivers room to look at film and he's in there looking at film because, you know, some of the other guys are… maybe the older guys are in the DB room looking at film. So, you know, I was like 'Hey, I need my room,' and he's like, 'Oh man, I thought you weren't watching it today.' So, I mean, you know, so it's just a lot of different interactions, so I've just seen him behind closed doors in the manner that's less competitive, so that's what I mean."