Move To Slot Aided Young CB's Ascent
In spite of the uncertainty surrounding his future, Eagles second-year cornerback Mario Goodrich generally treated the league-wide cutdown day the same as any other.
With his parents in town, the Goodriches spent the tense Tuesday relaxing around the house and later went out for something to eat.
As a nightcap, after Goodrich had already learned he’d made the Eagles’ 53-man roster, he and the entire defensive back group went to go see Lil Baby at the neighboring Wells Fargo Center.
That Goodrich gained admission into exclusive terrain shouldn’t have garnered much surprise, as the 23-year-old had been raising eyebrows for the better part of three weeks, effectively elbowing his way onto the team’s 53-man roster amid a crowded field of contenders.
A highly regarded 2022 rookie free agent signing from Clemson, Goodrich was unsuccessful in his initial bid to make the Eagles out of training camp, instead relegated to the practice squad for much of the season.
It was on the practice squad where he developed a regimented morning routine under the mentorship of veteran defensive backs Marcus Epps and Andre Chachere.
Goodrich, to his credit, said he sticks to the very routine that he believes helped him get to where he currently is.
His mettle was also frequently tested against Eagles wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith on the practice field, as his daily duties included providing various looks and preparing the starting receiving corps for the weekly opposition.
Drawing such a daunting assignment is bound to yield uneven results, especially as a first-year player, but Goodrich – who played against the nation’s top competition at Clemson – refused to buckle.
“My role last year was just going out there every day and being the best scout team player I could be,” he explained. “I’m going against two of the best guys in our league. They had their fair share of days, but I was making some plays, too. I feel like that helped me going into this year in giving me a little bit more confidence, knowing I could go against them guys.”
While toiling in relative anonymity served him well and shaped his confidence,Goodrich’s new-found versatility is what likely appealed to team brass during the evaluation process. And it wasn’t until Goodrich, a boundary cornerback by trade, was approached to undertake an off-season cross-training venture in the slot that his roster odds improved.
“Coach D.K. [McDonald] was like, ‘We’re gonna have a few guys cross-train at different positions,’” Goodrich recalled. “Then he was like, ‘Mario, we’re gonna have you at nickel.’ Whatever they need. I love it so far, learning from [Avonte Maddox] and just getting all the knowledge from him.
“And understanding that the slot route tree is different from the outside route tree. So, just understanding that and different leverages and stuff like that.”
For Goodrich, who learned the slot at Clemson but “didn’t really play it that much,” the transition inside appeared seamless.
The 6-foot, 186-pound defender proved to be instinctive, reactive and sticky in coverage with each rep, stacking a productive string of practice sessions in the process.
But that’s not to say the move won’t come with its own unique set of challenges for a predominantly perimeter corner.
To that end, Goodrich needed to alter his approach.
“I would say just being more patient,” he said. “Little guys, if you get a bigger guy on you, you wanna do all these movements and hurry up and get out.
“So, I’d just say being more patient in the slot and trusting my help and being able to get hands on and be more physical because I have help around me.”
Goodrich’s roster spot would’ve been difficult to envision entering camp, as third-year cornerback and special teams ace Zech McPhearson – who presumably had the inside track as a 2021 fourth-round pick – was also being cross-trained inside before a debilitating Achilles injury effectively ended his season.
Instead, it’s Goodrich – who comparatively had the superior summer – who forced the team’s hand into going heavy at the position.
But surviving on the active roster as a reserve nickel corner likely won’t be enough to warrant a season-long stay.
Goodrich will also be called upon to moonlight as a special teams contributor on a unit down five of its most prominent performers from a season ago, with a potential sixth if linebacker Nakobe Dean – a 2023 starter – is relieved of his duties.
And as oft-scrutinized coordinator Michael Clay strives to identify his core group, he’ll be able to summon Goodrich to lend a hand.
“At Clemson, I was on almost every special teams,” Goodrich said. “Starting as a freshman, that’s where I had to work my way up. I was on kickoff, punt, punt return. So, I did it all before.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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