CHARLOTTE – Like when I took on the assignment of writing about last month, I knew this one wouldn’t be easy. If anyone on the offensive side of the locker room uses fewer words than Williams, it’s Andrew Norwell.
Now in his fourth season, the undrafted left guard is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Quietly, of course.
“I'm not talking about that,” Norwell said when I told him I wanted to chat about his play.
But wouldn’t you want others to notice, especially in a contract year?
“I’m just doing my job.”
OK, what about that hole you opened for Christian McCaffrey’s 60-yard touchdown last week – can you take me through that play?
“Just power. And I give (running game coordinator John) Matsko credit for coaching the technique.”
To be clear, Norwell’s not rude. He’s mostly just a prototypical football player who, if forced to talk, wants to focus on “the team.”
But after a couple of minutes of trying to squeeze out some useable quotes, I caught a break. A box was delivered to Norwell’s locker.
Like a kid on Christmas morning, the 6-foot-6, 325-pounder ripped open the package. Inside was a holiday greeting from Ohio State, his alma mater, along with a bunch of new gear.
“I’m putting these on,” Norwell exclaimed before walking away.
Moments later, now wearing bright scarlet shorts, he said: “So what do you want to talk about?”
Anyway, about that Stewart run.
“We ran a little power to the right,” Norwell said. “I pulled around up to the linebacker, and Ed's guy was coming inside. But he pushed him out, so there was a little hole there. His guy was coming off a little bit, I chipped his guy and got to my guy, and Stew had a clear opening and just ran to daylight all the way to the end zone.
“It was a great feeling. I was pumped up, excited, high-fiving my teammates. It's just 11 guys on that play doing their job at once. We executed, and it popped for a touchdown.”
While it took 13 games for a Panthers running back to break off a play that long, Norwell has done plenty of popping. That’s why Pro Football Focus has him rated as the league’s sixth-best guard.
Maybe it was the scarlet shorts, but surprisingly, Norwell didn’t completely shy away when told some could make a good argument he deserves to be a Pro Bowler.
“Of course I like hearing that. That means I'm doing my job well,” he said. “It's very humbling when people think highly of me like that. That says a lot when they recognize my play. Football means a lot to me, and I just try to leave it out on the field and play for the guys next to me.”
Like left tackle Matt Kalil.
“He's very passionate. I wouldn't say much of a vocal guy, but you can see the energy he brings. When we need to get motivated, he'll motivate us,” Kalil said. “He’s the heart of the offensive line.”
Which could put the Panthers in a bit of a pickle in the offseason. The better Norwell plays, the higher his potential price tag, and Carolina is already heavily invested in Kalil, his brother Ryan and right guard Trai Turner.
Of course, as much as the gift box may have made Norwell open up, there was no way he’d touch his upcoming free agency. Right now, that has little to do with his true love.
“I'm just living in the moment. It's what Coach (Ron Rivera) says every day: Control your attitude, your preparation and your effort. I can only control what I control, and I've been sticking by that the whole year,” Norwell said.
“I love going out and playing football; I love it. I hold myself to a high standard – making every block I can make, using the right technique and doing what I can to help this team win a game.”