ASHBURN — A battle that happened behind closed doors in practice for two years resumes this weekend in Baltimore.

Redskins cornerback Josh Norman remembers it well. He was a young cornerback for the Carolina Panthers, an unestablished rookie who had to go head-to-head with a legend every day in 2012 and 2013.

Steve Smith remembers, too. He was a 12-year veteran who would walk into the wide receivers’ meeting room in Carolina and see Norman there already watching film. The older corners were using their own room. Norman had to fend for himself and that was the only place he could find. Smith kicked him out anyway, of course. But he was always impressed.

“Well, I am kind of biased. Because, you know, the Josh Norman… that is being portrayed or you see him on television is not the Josh Norman that I know,” Smith said. “I know the Josh Norman when I remember him as a rookie and watching him grow.”

He grew into a Pro Bowl corner and is now the highest paid at his position in the NFL. But it wasn’t long ago Norman was an unknown scrapping and fighting with Smith on the practice field his first two seasons in the league. The two men will meet again this weekend when the Redskins travel to M&T Bank Stadium to play the Ravens on Sunday at 1 p.m.

“A lion against a lion. Dog against a dog. Beast against a beast,” Norman said when asked to describe the matchup then and now. “Just his will imposing upon mine and mine imposing upon his. Just trying to edge out and seeing who can get the best of each other that day. It was always trying to steal your food, eat your food, take your dog plate kind of matchup. It was fun and it was definitely challenging.”

Smith wasn’t about to make this into a one-on-one matchup. It’s still Baltimore vs. Washington to him.

“I don’t know why he’d match up with me – old-ass receiver,” Smith joked. “I mean, I am excited to play ball. You know, don’t have a lot of these coming back, can’t get any of these back, so I am excited to play every game.”

Even at the advanced football age of 37, Smith leads Baltimore in both receptions (24) and targets (37). He has caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco and has five catches over 20 yards already.

Long one of the NFL’s most colorful personalities, Smith was never a receiver to be trifled with even at just 5-foot-9, 195 pounds. As a young player he and Redskins safety DeAngelo Hall — then with the Atlanta Falcons — had a raging rivalry in the NFC South. Hall still chuckles at the memory. Smith once called Hall a “court jester” while referring to himself as “the king.” He is one of the great trash talkers in NFL history.

“We had tussles here and there – as expected. But that guy, he’ll take your heart away from you if you allow him to,” Norman said. “That’s what I got [from Smith]. Being yourself. Every time to go out there is a time to get better. Every play is not a time to take off because he’s going to be hunting to get one up over you and when he do he’s gonna let you know about it.”

Follow Redskins reporter Brian McNally on Twitter.


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