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Redskins’ Alex Smith frustrating Josh Norman early in camp

July 31, 2018
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Washington Redskins defensive back Josh Norman (24) covers wide receiver Paul Richardson (10) during the morning session at NFL football training camp in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, July 31, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Alex Smith is frustrating Josh Norman.

Norman likes having Smith with the Washington Redskins, but practice time against the veteran quarterback at training camp hasn’t been as beneficial as the big-money cornerback had hoped. That’s because Smith has been so on-point with his decision-making and throws that Norman isn’t getting a whole lot of work in team drills.

“You’re in great position, you get there top of the route, you’re ready for your play to be made and it doesn’t come,” Norman said. “But the ones you are a little step behind on and you’re almost there to make it, he throws it. It’s those games, cat and mouse, man. It’s cat-and-mouse games that it just sucks when you’re the mouse.”

Norman feels like the mouse early in camp but hopes facing a QB like Smith each day benefits him in the long run. Entering the third season of a $75 million, five-year contract, Norman is balancing the lack of work he’s getting during 11-on-11 time with his usual half-hour plus of individual drills after practice as one of the last players on the field.

“That’s what you’ve got to do to be the best, to be great like him,” said undrafted rookie safety Quin Blanding, who worked out with Norman following practice Sunday. “It just shows he wants extra work no matter all the work he’s done in practice. It’s always find ways to get better, and that’s what he’s doing.”

Norman is known for his post-practice regimen, whether it’s going for jump balls or catching in rapid succession out of a JUGS machine. But none of that compares to team snaps, where Smith is avoiding Norman the way he would in a real game.

“I’m just staying the course and trying to understand that your technique is not flawed, continue to do what you do even though your chances are not coming,” Norman said. “But when they do come, try to be better than the quarterback in making a play. He’s so precise right now, so he’s not making mistakes, and that’s the biggest thing you’ve seen. Even in practice, he’s not making mistakes. It’s hard to try to key in on that.”

Coach Jay Gruden approves. His offense is built around quick decisions and finding the right receiver to throw to, and that’s not usually by challenging Norman.

“Josh is getting plenty of work,” Gruden said Tuesday. “We’re not going to throw a flat route out to Josh Norman and let him pick it. That’s just common sense, so Josh is going to have to wait for somebody else to throw it to him.”

Norman is still isolating elements of his game to work on at age 30, going into his seventh NFL season. He had no interceptions last year and dropped more than a handful of prime opportunities, so at practice he’s working on the little things that turn a broken-up pass into a pick.

“Being in place is the first part, but finishing the ball should be something that already is established and ingrained in you,” Norman said. “It’s just that six inches from making a play to not making a play.”

Trying to close the gap on those inches is what goes into Norman’s extra work after practice. And in the process, he’s helping young defensive backs like Blanding and Kenny Ladler develop the same kind of habits.

“You fix the mistakes and then when it comes again, you don’t make the same mistake,” Blanding said. “You’ve got to be ready to work no matter if it feels like a great day of practice or if it was a bad day of practice. You’ve got to put that aside and you’ve just got to work. You’ve got to keep on working, and that’s what he does.”

NOTES: RB Chris Thompson, who’s recovering from surgery to repair a broken right fibula, took his first snaps in team drills Tuesday. ... LB Mason Foster was limited at practice by a strained stomach muscle.

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