|Rookie Norwood's athletic ability has Panthers gushing about his potential|
|Written by Steve Reed|
|Wednesday, 02 June 2010 14:02|
CHARLOTTE – Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis just knows. Every once in awhile, he said, a rookie will join the team and he knows right away that guy is going to be an impact player.
Davis already has that feeling about fourth-round draft pick Eric Norwood.
“Definitely, he’s that type of guy,” Davis said emphatically. “Even without the pads on there are some guys you just look at watch and you know right away, hey, this guy is going to be a player. And I think Eric is going to be one of those guys. I have no doubt about it.”
There’s a growing sense from coaches and front office folks that they've found a steal in the fourth round (124th overall) in Norwood.
“I think he’s going to be a very, very key player for us right away,” Davis said. “He has a lot of versatility. He’s a guy we can use at linebacker or in pass-rush situations. We can have him put his hand down and he would do a great job playing defensive end.”
Norwood said he’s spent about 90 percent of his practice time working at outside linebacker, where he'll likely wind up competing with Dan Connor and James Anderson for playing time, but it’s clear that even when he’s not at defensive end the Panthers plan to give him opportunities to play to his strength, which is wrecking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Coach John Fox referred to him as a “DPR” or a designated pass rusher and is clearly excited about the options Norwood brings to the defense in terms of rushing from the outside linebacker position.
“When I think of Eric the thing I think of is his motor,” Fox said. “He's relentless to the ball. He's got a good first step in his pass rush. He's built pretty strong. Even though he might be a little short in stature he's pretty well put together and he's got extremely good explosion.
“I think the more a guy can do the better. He'll be an integral part of the kicking game (on special teams) as well as pass rushing in passing situations. We're putting him at linebacker to utilize some of his abilities there as a pass rusher when we do bring him.”
The big adjustment in playing linebacker in coordinator Ron Meeks’ scheme is Norwood will have to learn to cover tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield, something he didn’t do much at South Carolina.
At South Carolina he was primarily used as a pass rusher.
Norwood registered 29 career sacks and had 54.5 tackles for a loss, both school records, and was named to All-American last year as a senior, the first Gamecock player to earn that honor in 16 years.
More often than not, he was given the freedom to rush the quarterback when he had a chance.
“Pass-rushing is definitely my strength, but I’m confident in my ability no matter what I do,” Norwood said. “I’m doing a lot of things I wasn’t asked to do in college as far as being in coverage, but I’m adapting fine. I think I will be able to do that well. I have a lot of great coaches and teammates to learn from.”
But clearly what has the Panthers excited is the explosiveness he’s shown during OTAs getting off the football and getting into the backfield.
A few times he’s made some offensive tackles in camp look a little slow and a bit foolish with his speed. But Fox also believes that Norwood, although just 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, also has the power to drive past blockers.
“He's got real good leverage. He's got good power. He can go from speed to power pretty quick,” Fox said. “That athleticism and that feel for that, to change direction on your way to the passer, is something that is probably under looked a little bit. Everybody looks at speed and those kinds of things. You don't want to run around the pass blocker, and he's got the ability to go through them on a straight line.”
Although the Panthers are asking Norwood to do quite a bit early in his Carolina career, he doesn’t seem to mind.
In fact, he enjoys having a full plate.
“I’m loving everything they’ve got me doing – linebacker, special teams and defensive end. I’m confident in my role, no matter what they ask me to do,” Norwood said. “I’m really looking forward to the season.”
And so are the Panthers.