Josh Norman knows what’s on the horizon, even though he must stay in the present.
Aaron Rodgers. Drew Brees. Cam Newton.
And it starts with a showdown against Andrew Luck and the Colts on Sunday.
“I want to, but I can’t get wrapped up in it,” the Redskins’ Pro Bowl cornerback said. “Can’t do it, as much as I probably want to. If I do get wrapped up in that, then I have to worry about looking past this team, looking past that team. … But, for me, I’m thinking. It’s already know what’s in my head. I already know what’s coming up. You can’t overlook anybody.”
The Washington secondary wasn’t exactly tested by Sam Bradford and the Cardinals last week. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft isn’t quite in the same realm as the upcoming foursome, a group that has combined for 23 Pro Bowls, three MVPs, two Super Bowl MVPs, three offensive player of the year awards and four first-team all-pro selections. The Packers, Saints and Panthers are annual playoff contenders in large part due to the play of their franchise quarterbacks.
Luck led the Colts to the playoffs with an 11-5 record each of his first three years, including an AFC championship game loss to the Patriots after the 2014 season. Then a litany of injuries limited him to just seven games in 2015 and shoulder surgery kept him out all of 2017. The shoulder problem had been lingering since 2015.
Norman joked that Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who had the same position with the Colts from 2012-2015, would still be there if not for Luck’s injuries.
The 2012 top pick played his first game in 20 months last week and threw for 319 yards, two touchdowns and an interception while completing 73.6 percent of his passes in a 34-23 loss to the Bengals.
“I don’t think there’s anything different [coming back from injury],” Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said. “I think the linemen are a little better. [Quenton] Nelson, obviously, and Ryan Kelley is back healthy and the protection is a little better so I think you will see him a lot more comfortable. He still has plenty of arm strength accuracy with the football and great movement in the pocket.”
Norman had the most energy of several players in the secondary when talking about Luck. Defensive backs coach Torrian Gray has tried to mold the young group into an even-tempered crew that doesn’t let its emotions get the best of it. Cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau respect Luck’s skills but said there isn’t any extra anticipation of facing him for the first time nor any feelings of getting tested this week.
There will be more opportunities with the ball in the air this week, and Norman might try to get Luck’s attention with a word or two.
“Give him a look, give him a wink or two, maybe,” Norman said with a laugh. “Probably back off a little bit more on the wide receiver. I’m sure my time will come, and when it does come, I’m going to relish in the moment whether it’s good or bad. … But I am going to try to see if he’ll come talk to me a little bit.”
Manusky brings a little inside info to the defense this week with his knowledge of Luck. The most common concern is when the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder gets moving outside of the pocket. He has the ability to run and is a load to bring down but is still looking to push the ball downfield. Luck’s accuracy and arm strength are well known.
“Those are the more dangerous quarterbacks from a secondary standpoint,” Gray said. “Meaning, they’re scrambling, but they’re scrambling to buy time to throw it. Like Russell Wilson. Those Andrew Lucks. Those guys stress you more on the back end because you know when they buy time, they’re not just trying to run right away. You have to be more disciplined. Even though you’ve got to work and cover a little more.”
There’s a lot more work to do over the next month as this stretch brings the most accomplished group of quarterbacks the Redskins will face all season. Not only will the defense have to be technically sound and be able to adjust to a group of passers adept at creating something out of nothing on the fly, but it’s also a heady group. These quarterbacks will identify schematic and individual weaknesses and exploit them. Washington’s preparation will also include some self-scouting, in addition to trying to find holes in the opponent’s game.
And it all gets rolling with Luck, who threw for 370 yards and five touchdowns against the Redskins in 2014, including a Colts record of two 70-plus yard scores in the same game.
“I know he had a little cot or something to sleep in, and he would watch plays and be there probably past the time that we were there as coaches defensively,” Manusky reminisced. “I know Andrew spends a lot of time on film; I was there. He knows exactly what’s coming from his standpoint, so that’s what I expect.”
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