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NFL notebook: Jackson vs. Norman is must-watch matchup of Redskins camp

Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman signs autographs for fans after practice at training camp. (Steve Helber / Associated Press)
Associated Press

Kirk Cousins unloaded on a throw down the right sideline and watched as receiver DeSean Jackson and cornerback Josh Norman raced after the ball.

When Jackson got a step to beat Norman and finished off the play with a touchdown catch, Cousins sprinted down the field to celebrate as fans wowed and cheered.

Jackson versus Norman is the must-watch matchup at Washington Redskins training camp in Richmond, Virginia, whether it’s during 1-on-1 drills or 11-on-11s. The two stars revel in the competition and put on a show they hope will pay dividends by the time the games begin.

“We’re here to get better, make each other better,” Jackson said. “Both guys are out there doing it, just trying to help each other get better and just strive for greatness. Have a little bit of fun, talking, just kind of communicating, going back and forth a little bit.”

The Redskins have Pierre Garcon with Jackson on offense and DeAngelo Hall and Bashaud Breeland with Norman on defense, so there’s no shortage of chatter on the practice fields at training camp.

Breeland has impressed with some highlight-reel interceptions and pass breakups, but all eyes are on Jackson and Norman when they are matched up.

Jackson is in the final year of his contract, while Norman is in the first of his $75 million, five-year deal. Jackson has gotten the better of Norman so far, but the All-Pro cornerback who was part of the Carolina Panthers’ NFC champion defense considers practice a game in his own head.

“Being able to match up with a guy like that each and every time posted one-on-one is only going to make me better because if he beats me, he beats me,” Norman said. “If he beats me on this play, I’m coming back trying to find out how he beat me that first play. So I can come back and look at it like, `Let me beat him now.“’

Even coach Jay Gruden is excited to see the chess match.

“It will be great competition,” Gruden said. “When you go out and land a free agent of (Norman’s) caliber with the success that he had in Carolina and with the playmaking ability that he has and the leadership qualities that he has – it’s only going to help your football team.”

Norman thinks it’ll help him to work 1-on-1 against Jackson because it’ll help him adjust to receivers in the East. When the games start counting, it’ll be Norman vs. Odell Beckham Jr. of the New York Giants and Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys, so this is prep time.

“Coming from the (NFC) South where we face giants, it’s a bit different,” Norman said. “Now just being better with that and understanding to use my tools where I can be physical and where I can’t be. Knowing that, D-Jax is going to help me.”

It’s a work in progress as Jackson has what Norman accurately referred to as “blazing speed” and said his elusiveness is like the Flash. Norman doesn’t have stars in his eyes, but is still adjusting to facing Jackson.

“I’ve got to be patient in that and work that patience because he’s one of those guys that he’ll want to see a defender strike first and wait on him to make a move and then he react off of the defender,” Norman said.

“I’ve got to be better at being patient, and once I’m patient and understand what he wants to give me, then I can play to my strengths and use my tools to combat that. But how many guys do we see in the NFL to try to go against like that?”

Jackson can say the same about Norman, whose presence has given him incentive to go hard early in training camp.

It’s a mutual admiration society, even if there might be some fireworks along the way because Jackson wants to get the Redskins back to the playoffs and considers Norman a big piece of that puzzle.

“He has the work ethic, the enthusiasm to go out there every time, be the same guy and expect nothing but greatness from himself,” Jackson said.

“Vice versa on the other end on my side: I feel like every time I get to go out there to get a rep versus him, I’m going to try to play my best game as well, too.

“We’re just trying to feed off each other’s energy, feed off of each other’s playmaking skills and just really push each other to both get better and to use this time to get ready for the season.”

Bills sign Reggie Bush to 1-year contract

The Buffalo Bills signed free-agent running back Reggie Bush to a one-year contract to provide veteran depth behind starter LeSean McCoy and fill a big hole in their return game.

The agreement was reached after Bush traveled to Buffalo to take a physical and then met with Bills officials at their training camp facility outside Rochester.

“We are always looking to improve our roster,” general manager Doug Whaley said. “We had targeted Reggie because we feel a player of his caliber can help us in a variety of areas.”

Bush is a 10-year NFL veteran who played five games with San Francisco last year before suffering a season-ending left knee injury when he slipped on the bare concrete bordering the Edward Jones Dome field in St. Louis.

Injuries have been a career-long issue for the second pick in the 2006 draft. Bush has played 16 games in a season just twice and has been limited to playing 29 games over the past three years.

When healthy, Bush is a dynamic threat as a rusher, receiver and returner. He’s topped 1,000 yards rushing twice, most recently in 2013, when he had 1,006 yards in 14 games with Detroit. When adding in his production as a receiver, Bush has surpassed 1,000 yards from scrimmage five times in a career that began with New Orleans and included a two-year stint in Miami.

Bush’s versatility fits several Bills’ needs, including special teams.

Buffalo lacked a return specialist last season and failed to address the need this offseason.

“Hey, let’s be honest, that’s somewhere we want to be better at,” coach Rex Ryan said in assessing Buffalo’s return game after practice Monday. “That certainly wasn’t our strength last year.”

Bush has been used mostly as a punt returner. His best season came in 2008 with New Orleans, when he returned 20 punts for 270 yards and scored three of his four career touchdowns.

The 31-year-old Bush can also provide valuable experienced depth behind McCoy.

Backup Karlos Williams will miss the first four games of the season after the NFL suspended him for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The remainder of Buffalo’s backfield is made up of mostly unproven players, including Mike Gillislee, who played a complementary role in closing last season. Buffalo also re-signed Daniel Herron and added James Wilder Jr., the son of former Buccaneers fullback James Wilder.

Then there’s fifth-round pick Jonathan Williams, who faces potential discipline after being arrested in Arkansas two weeks ago on a misdemeanor charge of driving while intoxicated.

Rams punter Johnny Hekker wears Mike Sadler’s jersey number

Los Angeles Rams punter Johnny Hekker paid tribute to former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler by wearing the jersey number of the four-time Academic All-American who was killed in a car accident in Wisconsin on July 23.

Hekker wore Sadler’s No. 3 and will continue to do so during training camp to honor his friend and Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, who died in a single-vehicle crash after attending a kicking camp.

“Mike was a really, really special person,” Hekker said. “Think about all the lives he touched and Sam touched, they squeezed a lot of life into the years that they were here. They were a blessing to be around. Their legacy is going to live on through a lot of people.”

Hekker, who first met Sadler before his freshman season with the Spartans when they both worked out at a camp in Alabama, remembered a young man with a silly personality that belied his profound intellect and diligent work ethic.

“Just could light up a room,” Hekker said of Sadler, who was planning to attend law school at Stanford this fall. “Had more wit than an entire SNL cast. Was so smart, but didn’t really flex his brain too much unless he had to.”

Michigan State recognized Sadler during an event at Spartan Stadium on Sunday and has established a scholarship fund in his name.