Two things we know very well about Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith: The man's got a Grade-A gift for trash talk, and he can back up every word he says. Smith enjoyed a serious comeback season in 2011 (amazing what upgrading from Jimmy Clausen to Cam Newton will do), and he looks just about as strong as ever going into his 12th NFL season.
One guy who recently found that out the hard way was rookie cornerback Josh Norman, the Panthers' fifth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina. Apparently, Norman made a real go of non-contact minicamps, and he was very confident when speaking with Tom Sorensen of the Charlotte Observer.
"I was like, 'Oh yeah, I'm loving it, I'm absolutely loving it,'" Norman said of his first times he lined up directly across from Smith in practice. "Going against the best brings the best out of you. You want to beat him. So obviously every nick, every turn, you want to stay right on him and see if you can match up with the best."
And how did it go? "He'd get frustrated," Norman said. "He'd throw his hands in the air. He'd have a couple words ..."
So ... the rookie beat the veteran? "Absolutely, man ... All the other guys are like, 'Ah, man, he's shifty.' Whatever! Let's go. I'm all for a challenge."
Now, Norman is regarded highly as a press corner -- he was a three-time Big South selection, and he racked up 13 career interceptions to go with four forced fumbles and four blocked kicks. That said, he's never faced anyone like Steve Smith at full speed before. One could intimate that he still hasn't, these being minicamps and all.
As expected, Smith had his own opinion of those matchups.
"For a young guy, he's coming out and he's playing well. But as far as how much swagger and he loves to compete, I look at it like all the other veterans — May and June you just kind of cruise a little bit just to get through," Smith said during his fifth annual youth football camp last week.
"Once late July, August comes, he's going to learn very quickly this isn't Coastal Carolina. I look forward to camp. I hope he looks forward to camp, just like all the other DBs because the first week is never a good day for them when we've got this offense with Chud [offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski]. It's going to be early and often and real quick."
That is the lesson to be learned, but as with most confident rookies, it seems that Norman will have to learn it the hard way -- when the veterans aren't rolling at "minicamp speed" and the practices are far more lively.
And when it's Steve Smith going up against you, the lessons could be painful. We'll just have to wait and see how Norman matches up when Smith goes all-out.