While cornerback Josh Norman didn't like the way the Redskins' season finished, he knows the defense can continue to build in off-field activities and be more connected in 2018.
In his second year with the Redskins, cornerback Josh Norman took it upon himself to enhance the camaraderie among members of the defense. He invited players over to his home every Thursday and hosted movie screenings at a local theater.
They had less to do with football preparation than with male bonding, getting to know teammates better as people based on their interests and natural competitive spirit.
"If I can know about your family, of who you spend your time with on you off time, and you can come and relate that, I've got a better feel for you and how you're going to play on the field Sunday," Norman said. "I'm trusting you and I'm not letting you or your family down, because you know I've got your back and I know you've got mine."
Norman knows how important these kinds of weekly get-togethers can be. As he stood by his locker the day after the Redskins' 7-9 season ended, he reflected on his Super Bowl run with the Panthers, explaining how the foundation they built through similar meetings helped them on the field. It's something he sees continuing in a more devoted way next season.
"There's going to be a lot more of that in 2018," Norman said. "Because we have to build that, and I learned that. I really did, I learned that. It works, it works. We try to get things to which you can learn from the past and come to play where you're at now and just looking forward to more of that in 2018."
Norman said some of the team slacked off in the waning weeks of the season, but that he was happy with the attendance in the first year hosting. Norman said he would make sure to keep the sessions up on his own dime.
"I just feel like everything on that sense of communication, it goes into play," Norman said. "Knowing a guy, having a conversation, understanding where they're form, where they come from, how they do things and relate to body language and everything on the field. Everything I do take that, the conclusion of that. When we don't go to the house, we go to the movies and do things like that. I'm building that and we're working to build that culture and change that in a way."
Ultimately, Norman, like his teammates, was unhappy with the way his second season in Washington fared. The Redskins lost to the Giants in the final game of the year once again, this time knowing their playoff chances weren't possible several weeks before. It was a strange feeling for Norman, who vowed that 2018 would be different.
"It doesn't have to be close, and we always find these scrappy battles we get into in games, where we rely on people and then those people get hurt," Norman said. "We don't have to be close, and that's what we've got to take into our mindsets. Get out there and get on people early and often. At the end of the day, just continue to keep on them and have a big spread. It doesn't have to be close. I'm tired of these stupid close games."
Individually, Norman felt his play in 2017 was "really, really solid," despite the fact that he didn't have any interceptions. That specific statistic is more of a representation of his stellar defensive play, preventing quarterbacks from throwing to his side of the field based on his tight coverage.
Norman noted that his selection to be a Pro Bowl alternate was a sign that his tape spoke for itself in that regard.
"I'm gradually improving my game and I'm growing," Norman said. "Just finding little knacks and areas to make key plays and components of the game. I didn't really do that the last couple three or four games. It's hard when you only get two or three chances at a ball. You've just got to be patient and when your time comes, you've got to capitalize on that, make some plays, and we didn't. At the end of the day, it amounts to how many more plays that you have than your opponent. I try my best to do what I can and when they come my way, I just let the game come to me."
While missing two games with a chest injury, Norman collected 64 tackles with nine passes defensed and two forced fumbles. One of the bigger areas he felt he improved in was being a force on the edge, coming into the box and making plays on running backs and passes out wide that he could impact with his speed and physicality.
"I really am taking a look back over the film," Norman said. "I do it every year, looking at things which I can improve, because my game definitely can improve and I can get better in areas, which we will. Just understanding that and knowing what we can do to take that next step, the next leap into the playoffs, because that's what it's all about at the end of the day."
The Redskins defense finished last in rushing defense, ninth in passing defense and tied for 27th in points allowed. Part of the issues stemmed from injuries, which decimated the middle of the defense, but Norman knows all facets can improve with a strong core of young players and the growing culture he's begun to foster.
"That's what we're trying to get them to get to," Norman said of reaching the Super Bowl. "We will. Like I said, 2018 has a better outlook for it. That's what we have in our back pockets to look forward to."