Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman celebrates in the closing seconds as Carolina defeats the Arizona Cardinals 49-15 to win the NFC championship football game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on January 24, 2016. Photo by Nell Redmond/UPI | License Photo
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera wants his players to be themselves, and brash cornerback Josh Norman obliged Thursday at the final media session for either team before Super Bowl 50.
Norman, named All-Pro in 2015 and a soon-to-be free agent, replied to Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders' comment that Norman "talked his way into the media" when asked about it in a morning interview at the San Jose Marriott.
"I haven't been hearing much about him, so obviously he might want to go back and practice some more," Norman said.
Sanders caught 76 passes for 1,135 yards and six touchdowns, leading the team with 14.9 yards per catch and a Broncos-best 10 receptions in the playoffs.
"You have to be pretty darned good at what you do to talk your way into the spotlight," Norman said. "I'm sure if you're not good, you're not recognized as one of the best, and I guess people don't want to know about that person. So I don't know where he got that one."
Norman came unchained in a Week 15 game at New York when Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was flagged for two personal fouls and the two nearly came to blows. Beckham Jr. should have been ejected, the NFL later admitted, for spearing Norman in the side of the helmet out of frustration.
Rivera said before Norman's comments that the 28-year-old has shown "growth and development" this season. A fifth-round pick in 2012, Norman had 22 starts and three interceptions in his first three seasons. He returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season.
"He came in a very confident, cocky young player," Rivera said. "He did a lot of good things. We gave him opportunities right away. It was evident for us that he was still needing to grow and mature a little bit more as a football player.
"So as each year progressed and went on, you could see the slow growth and development. He kind of played -- I guess the expression is he kind of shot from the hip and kind of gambled a lot, took a lot of chances. It was about working within what we do.
"As he started to develop and grow that ability to grow within the speed, using the techniques that we taught but at the same time being who he is as a football player, you saw it happen."
Sanders told The Sports Xchange in the Broncos' press availability that he doesn't know whether or not the Panthers will assign Norman to cover him. Carolina plays a lot of man coverage, but Norman is more likely to be assigned Demaryius Thomas, who had 105 receptions for 1,304 yards and six touchdowns this season. However, Thomas has just six catches for 52 yards in the 2015 postseason.
Norman told reporters Thursday that the comments from Sanders were no surprise.
"That's wide receivers for you, though. If they don't think they're the best and nobody could stop them in the world, they wouldn't be doing their job. And if I don't think there's nobody I can't cover, I wouldn't be doing mine. It is what it is," Norman said in a sly attempt at diffusing the spat. "Pretty much I don't care. We'll see those guys on Sunday. We'll see if that's the same talk at 3:30 (p.m. Pacific) when we play those guys."