5:22 PM ET
David NewtonESPN Staff Writer
- Covered Panthers, NFL for 11 years
- More than 25 years experience covering NFL, college football and NASCAR
- Joined ESPN in 2006
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Josh Norman was running his Atlanta coffee shop that sits across the street from the cigar bar owned by former Carolina Panthers teammate Cam Newton when interim coach Steve Wilks called the cornerback into emergency duty Sunday night.
Norman, 35, chose to spend the 2022 season getting his business — Omni Coffee & Eggs — off the ground with the thought of returning to the NFL only if the right situation arose.
That arising happened Saturday when Wilks — who developed Norman from a fifth-round pick in 2011 into a first-team All-Pro in 2015 — lost starting cornerback Jaycee Horn (broken wrist) for Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay with first place in the NFC South on the line.
Horn had surgery Tuesday, and the team will evaluate in 10-12 days whether he could return for the regular-season finale at New Orleans.
Meanwhile, Norman was signed to the practice squad Monday with the plan to elevate him to the 53-man roster in time for the 1 p.m. game against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Carolina (6-9) can win the division if it beats Tampa Bay (7-8) and New Orleans (6-9). That also would help Wilks build his case as he seeks to go from interim to full-time coach after the season.
“It truly was about charity and giving back to these kids and helping him out as much as we could,” Norman said Wednesday of why he came back. “What I love about Wilks is he has that same mindset to want to give back.
“It’s just truly an honor for us to be here.”
This was Norman’s first time back in the Carolina locker room since the 2016 offseason, when then-Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman rescinded his franchise offer.
Norman spent the 2016-19 seasons with the Washington Commanders, 2020 with the Buffalo Bills and 2021 with the San Francisco 49ers.
Although much has changed at Carolina, the scenario facing it is similar to what Norman faced in 2014 when the Panthers won their final four games to win the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record.
Norman, a young cornerback who boosted the 2014 run, doesn’t see why that can’t happen again.
“It’s one of those things where you just use confidence,” Norman said. “Being on that team back then, having that mindset that no matter what, you’re always in it … what [Wilks] coached, laying brisk, breakup plays, how to use hands, just all of it, it’s still there.
“I carried all that when I left here. It’s just like riding a bike without training wheels.”
Wilks said Norman looked good in Wednesday’s practice, the corner’s first full workout with the team. He said the plan is to bring Norman off the bench and have him play outside on special packages, admitting that Norman is in shape but not game shape.
Norman can’t say for sure whether he would be here if it weren’t for the relationship he has with Wilks. But he admitted it’s special being back on the team he helped to an NFL-best 15-1 record and trip to the Super Bowl in 2015.
“I’m just a passenger on this ship,” Norman said. “It’s like a dream or movie, but it’s actually real and it’s happening. It’s like one of those out-of-body experiences I’m still trying to process.”
But Norman’s confidence in having to face Bucs wide receivers Julio Jones and Mike Evans, two players he prided himself on shutting down in his prime, is still there.
“Those guys obviously are at the top of their game, still today,” Norman said. “Nothing’s going to change that. It’s just because of who they are. At the end of the day, those guys know me, I know them. So we’re going to have some fun.”
Only linebacker Shaq Thompson and deep snapper J.J. Jansen remain on the Carolina roster from when Norman last played. They see the same swagger and “dawg” now that the cornerback had then.
“He’s always been an important part of what this place has been,” Jansen said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to bring on board a veteran, a guy who knows this place, who knows this system. That’s a pretty unique opportunity in Week 17 of an NFL season.
“It’s good to know how a guy is going to operate under fire. I’m glad he’s here. He’s got an opportunity to help us down the stretch run.”
Jansen wasn’t surprised at all to learn Norman and Newton had businesses across the street from each other. No two players defined the 2015 team more through their competitiveness and trash-talking.
It came to a head in the 2015 training camp when Norman intercepted a Newton pass and Newton ran him down for a tackle that turned into an all-out brawl.
Since then, they have been closer than ever. They even send customers to each other’s place.
Norman said it’s no different being across the street from each other than across the line of scrimmage.
“We’re not competitors,” Norman said. “We’re actually great business pals.”
Although he hasn’t talked to Newton about his return to Carolina, which Newton did last season for a stretch run that wasn’t successful, he’s sure Newton is as excited for him as he is for himself.
“I couldn’t write the script any better than what it is,” Norman said. “We’ve got an opportunity here to do something great.”