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Panthers CB Norman eager to reclaim starting job

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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP)

Josh Norman is eager to reclaim the starting job he lost last December following a bad game.

So far, so good.

The Panthers second-year cornerback made a statement Friday night by intercepting two passes and returning one 60 yards for a touchdown to spark Carolina to a 24-17 preseason victory over Chicago.

Norman was on the field for the first play against the Bears, but only because the Panthers opened with three cornerbacks on the field. Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn have been working as the starters in Carolina's base defense.

Norman is out to change that.

''Every year it's my goal,'' Norman said Sunday of his desire to be a starter. ''If not it's like `What's the point?'''

Norman grabbed the attention of coach Ron Rivera and his staff last summer with his aggressive play in man-to-man defense and his confident nature.

Despite being a fifth-round pick out of tiny Coastal Carolina, Norman won the starting job to open the season.

He held that spot for 12 weeks before struggling in a Dec. 2 loss to Kansas City. He was benched and never regained that spot.

At the time Rivera said the move was because he wanted to see what two other young corners - Josh Thomas and James Dockery - were capable of doing.

The Panthers went 4-0 to close the season without Norman in the lineup.

''I had a bad night and made some real unfortunate errors,'' Norman said of Carolina's loss to the Chiefs. ''I really wanted to bounce back the next week against Atlanta.''

He's done waiting.

Rivera said Norman has turned in another solid training camp.

However, it's unclear if the 6-foot, 200-pound Norman can unseat the more experienced Florence and Munnerlyn, who have started 99 and 34 career games.

''He's a ball hog, he's got the ability to make plays,'' Rivera said.

The Panthers want Norman to challenge receivers more at the line of scrimmage, which actually plays to his strength since he played mostly man-to-man coverage at Coastal Carolina. They also want to see him begin to pick up on playing a zone defense.

''This year I've been more up on the line of scrimmage,'' Norman said. ''I'm more pressing guys and in their faces.''

Norman said getting benched was a tough pill to swallow but it only inspired him to work even harder during the offseason to regain a starting spot.

''I think it's hard for anyone in that situation because you want to play,'' said Norman, who had 74 tackles and one interception in 2012.

Norman took the benching hard, but leaned on teammates for support.

Veteran safety Charles Godfrey was among those who spoke with Norman after the news broke and encouraged him to work even harder to get back on the field.

''I told him not to get into a slump, don't let that discourage you and make you feel like any less of a player,'' Godfrey said. ''If you lost your job you would probably feel the same way. But strong men bounce back from that. And that's what I tried to put into him - be strong and carry yourself as a champion and everything will take care of itself.''

Norman has done just that.

He's worked to sharpen his techniques and come back with a purpose this season.

''I feel as if I'm getting better,'' Norman said. ''I'm understanding what my coaches want from me, and the defense we're running. I'm learning from last year and trying not to make the same mistakes.''

As for whether he'll win that starting job remains to be seen.

But if he continues to perform the way he did against the Bears it could be awful tough for Rivera to keep him out of the starting lineup.

''That's something that is up to the coaches to decide,'' Norman said. ''We have a great group of defensive backs and any one of us can play and start and be successful.''

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Online: AP NFL website www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Steve Reed on Twitter: http://twitter.com/SteveReedAP

Tagged: Panthers, Josh Norman

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