LB Eric Norwood (Mary Ann Chastain/AP)
The Carolina Panthers lost a lot of sacks when Julius Peppers signed with the Chicago Bears. One of the players expected to replace some of those sacks is Eric Norwood, the "pass rush specialist" from South Carolina. For more on Norwood's potential impact, we check in with USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.
During his four-year stint at South Carolina, Eric Norwood racked up gaudy statistics with the same authority he used to bring down opposing ball carriers. His career numbers included 254 tackles, 29 sacks and two interceptions. He recorded at least six sacks in each of his four seasons, which is what appealed to a Panthers team in search of a consistent pass rusher.
But it was a quality less easily quantified -- intensity -- that really set Norwood apart from his peers.
"One thing we knew was that no matter what, Eric was going to go 100 percent,” Ward said. “There were times in practice when Coach [Steve] Spurrier would have to slow Eric down because he was going to hurt someone on offense. It's just Eric's mentality and the way he plays the game. He is a young man who loves to play football."
Norwood (6-foot-1, 252 pounds) is also a man who loves to get after QBs, which is what has Coach John Fox excited. He will spend time at linebacker and defensive end, but as long as he spends time in opposing backfields, the Panthers will be elated.
For Carolina, landing a pass rusher without a true position is a good problem to have. But for USC, the prospect of replacing such a player is unenviable.
"We were sitting here today trying to figure out who's going to fill that role," Ward said. "With a young man like Eric, you can utilize him in different matchups that will show his potential."
So, how will the Panthers coaches create those favorable matchups?
"Those guys are professional coaches," Ward said. "They saw something in Eric in order to back him. I think that they have an idea of where they want to use him. They know that when you turn the video on, he's an excellent pass rusher. He has the ability to play on and off the line of scrimmage because of the size and speed that he possesses. I'm sure [Carolina's coaches] see a lot of ways they can utilize his ability."
Norwood still has a lot to work on before he starts orchestrating sack dances. According to Ward, who has NFL coaching experience, Norwood must adjust to the physicality of the NFL game. That includes taking care of his body and keeping himself healthy.
Norwood must also adapt to a new team and a new city, although it will help that he's staying close to home.
"The people that loved him in South Carolina are starting to love him in North Carolina," Ward said. "Hopefully, he does as well as we think he can do."
While Ward is crossing his fingers for on-the-field success, he has no concerns about how Norwood will conduct himself off the field.
"Eric is a great young man," Ward said. "He's always upbeat and fun-loving. He's never been in any trouble [at South Carolina] and I don't see him changing into someone he's not because he's in the NFL."
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