Panthers bracing for battle against Norman

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CHARLOTTE – The Panthers' encounter with former cornerback Josh Norman will be a little different for everyone involved.

The 2015 NFC Champions were an extremely tight-knit group, and Norman – always eccentric and entertaining – was a big part of the team's success as he blossomed into an All-Pro performer.

Then, after the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag, he became a Washington Redskin. On Monday night, he faces the team that raised him in the NFL.

"It's just the nature of this business. Guys move teams, and the reasons are plenty," said tight end Greg Olsen, who was traded to Carolina from Chicago in 2011. "I went through it myself. It's kind of just the reality of our sport. Josh is obviously a good player. He did a lot for us. He was a big part of our team."

Safety Kurt Coleman thoroughly enjoyed playing alongside Norman in the Carolina secondary last year. They built a strong bond as the pair combined for 11 interceptions during the regular season.

"I love Josh. I think he's an amazing person," Coleman said. "I'm excited to see him again. It's been awhile."

Fullback Mike Tolbert has known Norman for 15 years. Both played collegiately at Coastal Carolina, and Tolbert helped show Norman the ropes when he entered the league.

"It's a business, and everything happens for a reason, so it's not going to be weird for me at all," Tolbert said. "I'm going to go give him a big hug and tell him I love him like a brother, and then we're going to go at it."

Norman and quarterback Cam Newton have been going at it for years. The ultra-competitive duo squared off in everything from video games, to cards, to hoops, forming a friendship beyond the gridiron.

On the practice field, their competitiveness helped bring out the best in one another. Now that they're on different teams, the stakes have been raised.

Will Newton be tempted to try to victimize Norman on Monday night?

"Knowing me and Josh, there's a high likelihood that could happen," Newton said, "but I have to control that beast.

"You've got to take what the defense gives you, go where the reads take you."

Norman fully expects to be targeted early and often.

"Look, Cam cannot stay away from a challenge, just as much as I can't stay away from a challenge," Norman said. "For you to sit up here and say, 'Is he going to challenge me?' that's not even a question."

But no one will renew acquaintances with Norman quite like the wide receivers lined up directly across from him – specifically Kelvin Benjamin, who went head-to-head with Norman countless times.

"We had great battles all the time in practice," Benjamin recalled. "Now it's going to be in primetime on TV. He tries to throw (receivers) off their game. It's fun, it's football.

"He's going to give you his best on every play, so I have to be at my best every play."

View photos of the Panthers as they prepare for their game against Washington.

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