Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Age is nothing but a number for 33-year-old CB Josh Norman, who is quickly fitting in with the 49ers

Sep 23, 2021 at 5:26 PM--

Josh Norman may be at an age that is often associated with decline when it comes to NFL cornerbacks, but he isn't about to let it stand in the way of doing what the 49ers expect from him in the weeks ahead.

In 2015, Norman was voted as a first-team All-Pro with the Carolina Panthers and was regarded as one of the elite cornerbacks in the league. But now, at age 33, Norman is one of the older active players at his position and is the oldest defensive player on the 49ers' roster (38-year-old kicker Robbie Gould and 35-year-old center Alex Mack are the only 49ers players older than Norman).

If you're surprised to read that little factoid, so was Norman when it was presented to him during his post-practice media session on Thursday.

"That's crazy," Norman said. "I didn't even think about that."

Age sneaks up on everyone, so maybe it did for Norman, at least in that moment. But he feels like a younger player than he is, even as part of a 49ers cornerback room that has a few players in their early and mid-20s.

"I really don't even feel like I'm 33, and I sure the heck don't act like it," Norman said. "The age thing, it's really a number man, because I really don't act or really feel like the age when I'm with those cats... It's kind of so surreal, but again, I really don't look at it that way."

Given the role he may play the rest of the season, the 49ers would certainly love for Norman to show some sparks reminiscent of his younger days. Norman has already seen significant playing time since signing with the 49ers on September 6 due to injuries to starters Jason Verrett and Emmanuel Moseley, and with Verrett's injury sidelining him for the rest of the season, Norman may continue to be a major factor at cornerback for the 49ers even when Moseley returns. So far, the 49ers have been satisfied with what Norman has been able to deliver, both on and off the field.

"One thing about Josh, he competes every snap," 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans told reporters Thursday. "No matter who he lines up against, he's going to compete. (He) has great energy, he's great on the sideline with the guys. He's a true vet, a true leader. It's been awesome being around Josh and he's just fit in with our guys really well. He's done a great job for the couple weeks that he's been here."

As for how Norman views his brief time with the 49ers so far, he's still in adjustment mode but told reporters he is "coming along" while also being careful not to be too forceful of a veteran presence.

"I look at it as I'm here to learn," Norman said. "I'm here to grow. You guys have been here. I just freshly got here two weeks ago. So I'm really trying to fit in in the sense of you show me the way instead of me showing you the way. Now I can show you on certain things that I've been a part of and different places and seeing so much ball, but at the same time, every place is different. So you want to be a servant leader instead of going out and pressing your will upon people because everybody's different. I try to move as I'm allotted to and be mindful of others and their space."

Norman was benched in 2019 when he was in Washington and played in only nine games during an injury-shortened 2020 season with the Buffalo Bills, so there are certainly some who are skeptical about how well he can fill a big role at this point in his career. But Ryans seems to have faith, due in large part to what Norman brings from a mental perspective.

"The older you get in this league, it's like how do the older guys keep up with the younger guys? It's all about from the neck up," Ryans said. "How smart are you when you're out there, understanding you've seen as many things as you're going to see, route recognition, splits, all those things from the cornerback position. But it doesn't matter wherever you play in this game -- offense, defense -- if you've been around long enough, you've seen a lot and you're able to understand and anticipate what you're going to get. That allows you to gain an extra step maybe on a young guy who's still trying to figure things out. Older guys are able to gain that step on them just because of the mental game they're able to play. I think that's where Josh is ahead of a lot of people -- just because of his mental prep."

And doubters are nothing new for Norman, so he'll look at his opportunity with the 49ers as another chance to prove people wrong.

"For me, it's just always been that way for some odd reason," Norman said. "But you know, I carry that mantle with my chin held high and still keep battling. I know who I am and what I want out of life. It's been one crazy, crazy ride. It ain't over yet, though. So it's just continue to fight, continue to battle each and every week and put some good stuff on tape and go out there and win for teammates. Because that's what it's really about -- your teammates and a championship. If we can do that, everything else is irrelevant."

Norman will get a big opportunity to shine Sunday night when the 49ers host the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara (8:20 p.m. ET/5:20 p.m. PT). He'll be called upon to help stop a potent Packers passing attack featuring quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams, both of whom are as good as anyone in the league at what they do. Adams will certainly give Norman a challenge if the two are matched up on Sunday, but Norman is definitely excited about the possibility.

"He's a real special cat," Norman said. "He grows every year too. You think you figure it out and then he just evolves his game into something else, which is pretty cool to go out on the field and face a guy like that because he's always going to show you something different. I like going against guys that elevate their game instead of staying the same because you can't get a beat on them... It's fun to watch him, and I sure as hell know it's going to be fun to play him. I'm looking forward to it."

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