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Zlatan fanboying, Man U love, and Anfield experience: Josh Norman opens up on ‘Men in Blazers’

Zlatan fanboying, Man U love, and Anfield experience: Josh Norman opens up on ‘Men in Blazers’

Walk into the Redskins locker room, and you'll most likely find cornerback Josh Norman carrying or kicking a ball around with him. But that ball is not a typical pigskin.

Although Norman may strap up his helmet and guard wide receivers for a living, his true passion is not American football. The Pro Bowl cornerback's first love is their other type of football, better known as soccer.

Norman appeared as a guest on the Men In Blazers podcast on Monday, a popular NBC Sports European football talk show. The Men in Blazers crew, Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, hosted a live show at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Monday, and other guests that made an appearance include D.C. United striker and English football legend Wayne Rooney, as well as the United States Women's National Team and Washington Spirit forward Rose Lavelle.

You can listen to the full podcast below. Norman enters around the 1:06:00 mark. The full interview will be shown on Sept. 15 on NBC Sports Network as part of their Premier League coverage.

The eight-year NFL veteran originally became a soccer fan in 1999 or 2000, telling Men In Blazers that "playing [his] little brother in FIFA" first sparked his soccer fandom.

"Playing the game, I wanted to be better than my brother," he said.

But what really turned Norman into an obsessive soccer fan was when he met former Paris St. Germain star and current LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic when PSG was on a United States tour during the 2015 summer. PSG played a pre-season friendly that summer in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium, the same pitch Norman used to call home during his first four seasons in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.

"Meeting Zlatan in Charlotte, I truly fanboyed for the first time," Norman said. "I know how it feels to be a fan. I truly do. I took myself out of who I am as a professional football player to a fan of not only the sport but a guy. As he would say, 'living immortal.'"

Norman was also star struck by other PSG icons, such as Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva.

Although it were the French giants that were the reason for Norman's suddenly growing soccer obsession, they are not his club of choice. Norman supports Manchester United and is very good friends with their midfielder and French National, Paul Pogba. When the Redskins played the Bengals in London three years ago, Norman met up with Pogba after the game, and the two of them made an appearance on NBC Sports Washington's postgame show.

When asked whether he would want Pogba on his team, Norman joked: "Not today."

While Norman claims the players were the main reason he chose to support the Red Devils, he told Men in Blazers two unusual and unique answers as to other reasons why he has such an affinity for the club.

"I went out there and visited and got a tour of the entire facility," Norman said on his first visit to Old Trafford. "I got to see how green their grass is. It was unbelievable. It's literally a cut above our fields. I don't know what they do, if they cut it a right way, they literally have a science to it. And then just going out there on the pitch, it's very high security. The security level was higher than the pent[agon] or the White House."

Both Davies and Bennett, as well as the entire crowd, had quite the laugh after hearing that.

The cornerback may be a fan of Manchester United, but this past offseason, he took in a Champions League match featuring another Premier League team: Liverpool. The match happened to be the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals against Barcelona, with Liverpool pulling off an improbable comeback to advance to the finals.

Norman was one of the spectators to be in attendance for that magical night in Anfield, where an injured Liverpool squad came back from a 3-0 deficit on aggregate to defeat Barcelona 4-0 and advance.

"But being in Anfield, their front four was hurt. Mo Salah, he didn't play. [Roberto] Firmino, he didn't play either," Norman said. "But they came alive. Of course, they believed in themselves, but they got something more than just believing in themselves. Like stands full of 60-80,000 people that just went forward with "You'll Never Walk Alone," that's all you heard the whole entire time. Aggregate 3-0, you're not coming back from that. You might as well put the nail in the coffin."

There are very few sporting events in the world that can compare to the atmosphere of a Champions League night. Norman was asked if he had every played in an atmosphere similar to what he saw that night in Liverpool.

He said there was only one game that could compare. That would be when he played in the most-watched American sporting event every year, the Super Bowl.

"I was almost about to say never, but being in the Super Bowl," he said. "That thing right there, oh my god. Super Bowl 50, you're standing on the sideline with all the greats that played the game before us. You just see the jewelry that those guys got on their hands, the all-time greatest teams walk out there. It's an unbelievable experience. It was really just a rockstar fest."

The Men in Blazers duo asked Norman to compare what being down 3-0 in soccer is equivalent to in American football.

The cornerback, who is never afraid to speak his mind, responded jokingly "28-3," referring to the 25-point lead the Atlanta Falcons blew to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

The Redskins regular season begins in less than three weeks, so their star cornerback will have to hold off on his European soccer adventures until next offseason. But No. 24 already has in mind the next match he wants to see.

"I haven't seen Celtic versus Rangers," he said, referencing the Scotish football rivalry. "I hear so much about it. I would love to sit down and watch that, it would be cool."

In the NFL, winning a Super Bowl is the ultimate goal every year. In soccer, winning the World Cup is the highest achievement one can earn. 

But if Norman had the choice between scoring a touchdown in the Super Bowl or scoring a goal in the World Cup, what he would choose came to the delight of many in attendance at the show.

"Well, you got to think about it," Norman said. For me, I'd have to take the billions of people that watch the soccer goal."

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The Redskins finally have a fullback again, and he's ready to pave the way in the run game

The Redskins finally have a fullback again, and he's ready to pave the way in the run game

For the first time since Darrel Young was contributing in the backfield from 2010-2015, the Redskins have a legitimate fullback on their active roster.

Michael Burton got the call from Washington on Sunday night in which they said they were interested in adding him, caught a flight on Monday, worked out for the team on Tuesday and, after signing his contract, took the field for his first practice on Wednesday. He's been a busy man lately, but in a conversation following that Wednesday practice, he used the word "excited" a handful of times to describe his current mood.

He should be feeling that way, too.

Burton's arrival is yet another commitment to running the football by interim coach Bill Callahan. The Redskins have been using Ryan Anderson in a pinch in short-yardage and goal-to-go situations as a lead blocker, but now, they have someone who's played the position in the NFL for multiple seasons. 

Under Callahan, Burton could very well have a role. 

"I think it can give the defense different looks," Burton said of fullbacks. "I think they can do a lot of different things, whether you start us out wide and you bring us in, that can kind of be a tell to what the defense is doing. It just adds another blocker from the backfield. It makes it a little more difficult for the linebackers to fit. We can create more creases. Obviously, I'm a big fullback fan."

Jay Gruden often spoke about how he'd like to keep one on his final rosters, yet he never found room in recent seasons. But when backup tight end Jerome Cunningham was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday, Burton was chosen to take his place.

Of course, a huge chunk of the league continues to emphasize the spread and speedy skill-players and attacking defenses in the air. 6-foot, 240-pounders aren't exactly in high-demand.

That is precisely why Burton feels like he can be a sneaky asset for the Redskins.

"They don't see it in practice all the time," he explained. "When you play that team that hasn't seen it, it's difficult to prepare for that in a week... I think it just adds another element to the offense."

Now, it remains to be seen whether Burton is long for the Burgundy and Gold. These kinds of mid-season acquisitions are often gone before their lockers are fully set up. 

However, with Callahan in charge and Adrian Peterson being a featured piece again, perhaps Burton can become effective and beloved like Young and Mike Sellers were for the organization. He's not worried about that, though. He's instead focused on much simpler goals.

"If Coach Callahan wants to get the run game going, I take pride in that," he said. "I'm going to put that on my shoulders every single day to make sure we have a successful run game."

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Here's who is on the DC Defenders roster, alongside Cardale Jones

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Here's who is on the DC Defenders roster, alongside Cardale Jones

The next step in the XFL's 2020 relaunch was completed on Wednesday, as each team completed the five-phase open draft.

The DC Defenders, one of the eight teams in the revamped football league, pulled in quite the haul.

While he wasn't a draft pick, former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones was assigned to the Defenders on Tuesday. He joins the Redskins' Dwayne Haskins as former Buckeye QBs playing in the nation's capital.

Here's a look at their full roster, with the names and important notes to know.

Skill Positions:

Rashard Davis, WR, James Madison
Tre McBride, WR, William & Mary
Jhurell Pressley RB, New Mexico
DeAndre Thompkins, WR, Penn State
Khari Lee, TE, Bowie State
Orson Charles, TE, Georgia
Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
Max McCaffrey, WR, Duke
Tyree Jackson, QB, Buffalo
Adrien Robinson, TE, Cincinnati

Offensive Lineman:

Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford
Logan Tuley-Tillman, OT, Michigan
De'Ondre Wesley, OT, Brigham Young
Jon Toth, OC, Kentucky
Rishard Cook, OG, Alabama-Birmingham
Chris Brown, OG, Southern California
Toby Weathersby, OT, Louisiana State
James O'Hagan, OC, Buffalo
Chase Farris, OG, Ohio State
Casey Tucker, OT, Arizona State

Defensive Front Seven:

James Vaughters, LB, Stanford
Charles Harris, DE, Buffalo
Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona
Tracy Sprinkle, DT, Ohio State
Jameer Thurman, LB, Indiana State
Sam Montgomery, DE, Louisiana State
Jonathan Celestin, LB, Minnesota
KeShun Freeman, DE, Georgia Tech
Daryle Banfield, DT, Brown

Defensive Backs:

Elijah Campbell, CB, Northern Iowa
Desmond Lawrence, CB, North Carolina
Jalen Myrick, CB, Minnesota
Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State
Bradley Sylve, CB, Alabama
Reggie Cole, CB, Mary Hardin Baylor
Rahim Moore, Safety, UCLA
Tyree Kinnel, Safety, Michigan
Carlos Merritt, Safety, Campbell
Ladarius Gunter, CB, Miami (FL)

Phase 1: Open Draft

Terrence Lee-Alls, WR, James Madison
Dimitrios Tsesmetzis, TE, Western Connecticut State
Duvonta Lampkin, DT, Oklahoma
Tavaris Barnes, DE, Clemson
Jake Ceresna, DE, Cortland
Brian Khoury, DE, Carnegie Mellon
A.J. Tarpley, LB, Stanford
Matt Elam, Safety, Florida
Tre Sullivan, Safety, Shepherd
Hunter Niswander, Punter, Northwestern

Phase 2: Open Draft

Khalid Abdullah, RB, James Madison
Ryan Yurachek, RB, Marshall
Levern Jacobs III, WR, Maryland
Richard Mullaney, WR, Alabama
Ronald Patrick, OC, South Carolina
Cole Boozer, OT, Temple
Randall Harris, OT, Towson
Siupeli Anau, DT, Northern Arizona
Koa Farmer, LB, Penn State
Max Redfield, Safety, Indiana (PA)

Open Draft: Phase 3

John Thomas, RB, Penn State
Jamal Custis, WR, Syracuse
Deion Holliman, WR, Missouri State
Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville
Justin Thomas, WR, Georgia Tech
Terron Prescod, OG, North Carolina State
Trae Moxley, OT, Colorado State
Josh Augusta, DT, Missouri
Kristjan Sokoli, DT, Buffalo
Jordan Jones, LB, Kentucky

NOTES:

  • One name that is familiar to many college football fans is running back Donnel Pumphrey. He left San Diego State the NCAA's all-time leading rusher. Prior to the XFL, Pumphrey was a fourth-round pick of the Eagles in 2017, but multiple injuries prevented him from making an impact on the field.
     
  • Linebacker Scooby Wright should make an immediate impact for the Defenders. At Arizona State, he won the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year award. After bouncing around multiple NFL teams, Wright will sue the XFL as hopefully a form of stability in his NFL career.
     
  • Cardale Jones will take the QB headlines, but Tyree Jackson is no slouch, either. Just 21 years old, Jackson went undrafted in 2019 and was released by the Bills during final roster cuts. He was one of the more intriguing prospects coming out and his slip was surprising to many. Expect Jackson to compete with Jones for snaps at the very minimum.
     
  • Maryland's own Levern Jacobs will stay local, as the Defenders selected the former Terrapin in the open draft phase. Jackson spent time with the Redskins during training camp in 2017 but was released during final roster cuts. 
     
  • The older brother of NFL MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey was selected by the Defenders as well. Wide receiver Max McCaffrey had a stellar career at Duke but was unable to find footing in the NFL after going undrafted in 2016. He'll look to revamp his football career with the Defenders.
     
  • One player with significant NFL experience is cornerback LaDarius Gunter. In 2016, he was a full-time starter for the Packers opposite of Damarius Randall. He was released in 2017 and appeared in four games with the Carolina Panthers in 2017. His most recent football came from the AAF, where he was a member of the Orlando Apollos.
     
  • If you want to talk about athleticism, one Defenders' wide receiver is as good as they come. Deion Holliman and his 65-inch vertical will be on display for D.C.
     
  • Former Ravens first-round pick Matt Elam brings incredible experience to the Defenders as well. He spent four years with Baltimore, and off the field issues derailed his NFL career. Expect Elam to use the XFL as a way to catch attention from other NFL teams.