CHARLOTTE – The last time cornerback Josh Norman was spotted on the football field, he had to wonder when he'd be next be spotted on a football field.
A rookie season that started with such promise last year for all intents and purposes ended in a Week 13 loss at Kansas City. After starting the first 12 games, Norman virtually disappeared for the final four.
"It was a whirlwind roller coaster my first year, making some good plays and then kind of tanking it in the Kansas City game," Norman said. "I had a good start, and then it started to tail off toward the end."
This year, Norman is off to a better-than-good start. Now, after picking off two passes in the Panthers' 24-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in Friday night's preseason opener, he'll begin working toward forging a better rather than a bitter end.
Norman started when the Panthers opened in a nickel defense, and he took full advantage by intercepting a Jay Cutler pass on the first snap and returning it 11 yards to Chicago's 18-yard line to set up a touchdown. Then midway through the third quarter, Norman stepped in front of a pass thrown by Matt Blanchard and weaved his way 60 yards for a touchdown that extended the lead to 21-10.
"The first one, we were in man coverage," Norman said. "I played outside and let the receiver get slightly inside of me. He ran a slant, and I kind of squeezed him. Cutler threw the ball in front of him, and I was right there and stepped in front.
"The second one was in zone. As soon as I saw his arm go back, I broke. I got it, and then while I'm running, I was thinking, 'If I let him tackle me…' "
But Blanchard couldn't corral Norman after he cut back at the 30, and Norman sprinted to and through the end zone, leaping into the first row of the Bank of America Stadium stands in celebration.
"I minored in dramatic arts. I like to have fun," Norman said. "I said that the first time I ever touch the end zone, I want to get up in the stands. I've seen it on TV, so I thought, 'Why not?' "
Norman hopes that he's now ready for prime time, but after how things panned out last year, he's not just counting on it yet.
As media crowded around his locker after the game, someone asked him which of his interceptions was the easiest.
Locker room neighbor Captain Munnerlyn answered from a few feet away.
"He has three on me," Norman said of Munnerlyn, who has three career interception returns for touchdowns in regular season play. "This is the preseason, so they don't really count. For me, it's that hump and just getting over it. I'll just keep working and get better every day."
The way last season ended fundamentally changed Norman's approach. His four or five interceptions (depending on who you ask) in one of his first training camp practices was a distant memory, and he realized he had to figure out some things.
Based on Friday's performance, he has.
"When I got sat down, I looked back over everything," Norman said. "When the offseason came, I could have gone one way or the other, but I took the high road and got back on the horse and started working.
"I put in a lot of hard work during the offseason, hard work toward understanding the concepts of everything. My study habits have gotten a whole lot better. Once I understood my leverage and my help, things like that, the game slowed down for me tremendously. I felt more comfortable.
"I wouldn't say this is redemption. It's hard work paying off."