Norwood lands in Carolina, calls it 'a great fit'

Special to The StateApril 23, 2010 

USC's Eric Norwood celebrates a sack during the first quarter during the Gamecocks game against Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium, Saturday, November 1, 2008.

GERRY MELENDEZ/GMELENDEZ@THESTATE.COM

Eric Norwood waited much longer than expected to be selected in the NFL Draft.

He spent Friday night watching television, waiting for his name to be called. He then had to wait over an hour on Saturday to hear his name called.

Finally with the 26th pick of the fourth round and 124th overall, the Carolina Panthers selected the former South Carolina standout. He was the 15th linebacker selected.

"I was surprised it took as long as it did," Norwood said. "The waiting was probably the worst part. I was just ready for it to all be over. But I'm glad I am where I am. I think it's a great fit."

Norwood was thought to be a second- or third-round selection going into the draft. He fell to the fourth round because of questions surrounding his size (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) and coverage skills.

The All-American linebacker leaves USC as the career leader in sacks (29) and tackles for loss (54.5) but it was his ability to play pass coverage in the NFL that Norwood felt hurt him.

Linebackers are expected to cover running backs, something Norwood was not asked to do many times in his college career.

"I feel like I'm OK covering backs," Norwood said. "I think everybody knows my main thing is rushing the passer. I think that is why the Panthers drafted me."

Norwood played special teams for South Carolina and could be used in that area with the Panthers. Even without ideal size, Norwood has outstanding instincts to rush the quarterback.

His former USC teammate and current Panthers defensive back Captain Munnerlyn was the first person to call and welcome him to the team. Norwood said Munnerlyn told him the Panthers might draft him even though he did not have much contact with them during the entire process.

Norwood was pleased to be the Panthers' first defensive pick of the draft. He will play for a team 258 miles from his mother's home in Acworth, Ga.

"One of the reasons I'm excited is my family will be able to see me play," Norwood said. "Plus it's not that far from Columbia, so the South Carolina fans can keep up with me and I can still follow the Gamecocks."

Anna Norwood, Eric's mother, was overcome with joy.

"It's a great day," she said. "Eric gets to stay in Carolina and that's a blessing. He's not far from home and we will get to see him play in person. It couldn't have worked out any better."

Norwood announced after the Outback Bowl that he would leave for the draft after his junior year before reversing field a few days later. He graduated in December with a degree in criminal justice.

"Coming back was rewarding is so many other ways. I'm just going to go do what I do," Norwood said. "It's a great opportunity and I'm going to make the most of it. This is my job now and I'm going to have to compete every day."

Clifton Geathers, a junior defensive end who left school a year early, was the only other South Carolina picked. He was selected in the sixth round by the Cleveland Browns, 186th overall.

USC's Darian Stewart, Moe Brown, Garrett Anderson and Lemuel Jeanpierre are candidates to sign free agent contracts this week.

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