Norwood getting lots of work|Rookie asked to play DE and LB

Published 8:28 am Wednesday, August 4, 2010

By By Darin Gantt, McClatchy Newspapers
SPARTANBURG, S.C.— Eric Norwood fell to the fourth round of the draft because no one knew quite what to do with him, and he’s still paying for it.
The cost is in the dollars lost by being picked later than he hoped, and the sweat from pulling double duty during Carolina Panthers training camp.
Norwood is being asked to do multiple things in practice.
‘‘The biggest difference is mental,’’ he said during a rare opportunity to sit. ‘‘Not the physicality; you just have to know at any moment what to do. I walk in the door third string, and 15 minutes into practice we have injuries and I’m taking reps with the twos and the threes.
‘‘You have to prepare yourself mentally to take all those reps, not get off balance or let your body get out of whack.’’
The Panthers are throwing a lot at the former South Carolina star, who played all over the field for the Gamecocks and still doesn’t have a permanent home.
At 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, he’s not big enough to play defensive end full-time. Running a 4.71-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine caused concerns of whether he was fast or fluid enough for pass coverage as a linebacker.
Then scouts turned on the tape, and they saw him making play after play. He left South Carolina with school-record totals of 29 sacks and 54.5 tackles for loss, bypassing stars such as John Abraham.
Still, the uncertainty persisted. Scouts knew they liked him; they just didn’t know what to do with him. Only one 3-4 team, Pittsburgh, even brought him in for a pre-draft workout.
When asked which players he wanted to model his game around, Norwood mentioned Denver’s Elvis Dumervil and Pittsburgh’s Lamarr Woodley, hybrids or 3-4 linebackers whose primary job is to get to the quarterback.
Dumervil is nearer to Norwood size (it contributed to Dumervil’s draft slide, which also ended in the fourth round), but he also has 43 sacks and was rewarded with a $61.5 million contract extension.
Norwood admits admiration, but he wants to blaze his own trail, as soon as he’s given a map.
‘‘Mainly I just want to be me,’’ he said. ‘‘I think once I get my chance to show what I can do, I think I can be up there with those guys in a couple years if I can keep learning from coach Smith and coach Baker.’’
That would be defensive line coach Brian Baker and linebackers coach Richard Smith, who have been tugging Norwood back and forth throughout practices. Smith gets to keep Norwood for meetings, but on the field, there’s a tug-of-war for the rookie.
A recent five-minute segment of practice illustrates what Norwood’s going through.
At one moment, he’s using his speed to work around backup right tackle Rob Petitti, with a first step and burst the blocker can’t match. This has Baker shouting praise.
Norwood stops for a few heavy breaths, hears his name called, and pops up on the balls of his feet and runs 50 yards away to linebacker drills, where Smith talks to him. Then it’s his turn in a 7-on-7 drill, and when DeAngelo Williams cuts a runback, Norwood’s right in front of him, having correctly stayed home and not followed the flow of the play too far the other direction.
It’s a lot of learning for Norwood, who started 26 games at linebacker for the Gamecocks.
‘‘Right now his base position for us is linebacker. We’ll see how that goes,’’ coach John Fox said. ‘‘He spent a lot more time with his hand in the dirt in college. He definitely has those skills, so he can be a designated pass rusher as well as an every-down linebacker and we’ll evaluate that as we move forward.’’
The talent is clearly there, the skills are coming, but he’s already impressing with his intensity.
‘‘He’s going to go 110 percent every day, and in games he turns it up another notch,’’ said cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who played with Norwood at South Carolina. ‘‘He’s a different animal in games. He goes 150 in the game.
‘‘In practice, he’s always going to give you everything he’s got and in games he turns into this beast. I’m like ’Wow.’ ‘‘
Still, the question persists, how they’re going to use him. They have more experienced players at each spot, but with every day of camp, you wonder how they can afford to not incorporate Norwood somewhere.
‘‘I think I could do it as soon as they let me go,’’ Norwood said. ‘‘They’re letting me rush right now, so I think it’s going good. Yeah, I’ve still got things to do, learning to be the type of linebacker they want me to be. It’s training my eyes, so I can see what I’m supposed to see.
‘‘I want to be a true linebacker in every sense of the word.’’
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