Slot Him In
Second-year CB Mario Goodrich Ready For Bigger Role After Maddox Injury
PHILADELPHIA – A long pause followed before Mario Goodrich offered a response as he assessed his skill set.
“I wouldn’t even say I’m a corner no more; I just play all around the secondary,” Goodrich said Friday before giving the question more thought.
The soft-spoken second-year cornerback, standing inside his locker perched between rookie Kelee Ringo and veteran Terrell Edmunds, eventually settled on an apt description, characterizing himself as “instinctual” before continuing to draw a blank.
While modest and reserved by defensive back standards, Goodrich has become a hot topic across the Delaware Valley in the wake of the pec injury suffered by Avonte Maddox, which will sideline the veteran cornerback indefinitely.
For Goodrich, the first defensive snaps of his career occurred almost unexpectedly.
With 12 minutes left until the break in the Eagles’ home-opener, Vikings running back Alexander Mattison met Maddox at the Philadelphia 12-yard-line, finishing off a five-yard carry around the left end.
The collision left Maddox shaken, and eventually relegated him to the sideline – familiar territory for Maddox, who had missed 21 games in five seasons.
Goodrich, a relative unknown to most, was the next man up for an undermanned Eagles secondary.
The Vikings pulled ahead two plays later on a 5-yard Kirk Cousins pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson, who bowled over Goodrich near the goal line to punch it in.
Goodrich appeared disjointed and slow to react early but would ultimately settle in, conveying confidence, urgency – and the instincts to which he alluded.
Though the final numbers tell a different story – Pro Football Focus officially charted Goodrich for six receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown on six targets – to the naked eye, Goodrich demonstrated encouraging signs of growth in his 39 snaps.
“I’d say I started off pretty trash,” Goodrich said, candidly. “Pretty bad. But once I got settled in, I’d say I started playing a little better.”
Typical with any young player forged by fire, hiccups and growing pains are to be expected.
Plays will be made, yardage surrendered.
Communication breakdowns happen.
But Goodrich, who the team already has a year invested in, already forced the Eagles’ hand into keeping seven cornerbacks on the 53-man roster on the heels of a breakthrough training camp.
He will presumably be given every opportunity to stake claim to the hefty void left by Maddox’s injury.
He’s also ideally positioned to reap the benefits of the on-the-job training, surrounded by a veteran-laden secondary – anchored by cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry – and a newly minted defensive coordinator in Sean Desai, who in two games has showcased a penchant for putting his patchwork personnel in position to succeed.
Most importantly, Goodrich gained some invaluable insight into his own acumen in the aftermath of the Eagles’ 34-28 win.
“Really, that I could do this,” Goodrich said. “I need to focus more on jet motion and stuff like that. Understanding that some receivers, they’ll look at you and try to freeze you. It just depends. They play with you. They play games and stuff. So, just understanding different motions and stuff like that.”
Goodrich hasn’t yet spoken to to Maddox, who underwent surgery Thursday, but his development has the veteran Maddox’s fingerprints on it, specifically in film study.
Throughout camp, Goodrich would pepper Maddox, who sat in front of him, with questions.
While Goodrich won’t have the luxury anymore of absorbing Maddox’s trade tricks as he prepares for a prime-time showing at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, he has primarily leaned on nickelbacks coach Ronell Williams in Maddox’s absence.
Goodrich has credited the first-year coach – the team’s first slot-only position coach – with developing patience and with understanding the help around him, in addition to footwork refinement and sharpening his knowledge of the game.
If there’s anyone on the roster most familiar with Goodrich’s ability, even more so than those in his own position room, it would be wide receiver Joseph Ngata, a practice squad member and Goodrich’s teammate at Clemson.
For three seasons, the two friends would square off on the practice field, honing their respective crafts.
While Ngata can’t remember any specific encounters on the practice field, the rookie wideout recalled a competitive atmosphere – and a cornerback hardwired for the moment.
“Mario is very competitive, very hard-working and he’s savvy,” Ngata said Friday. “I really think he can make an impact if he continues to work hard and do what he does.”
And how did his former college teammate – who, fittingly, was on hand to see his first regular season snaps – assess Goodrich’s performance last week?
“I was with him that night and was just telling him how he was doing for his first NFL game,” Ngata said. “That’s a big milestone for anybody. So, I just told him, ‘You gotta build from what you just put out.’
“Going against arguably the best receiver in the NFL (Justin Jefferson) is a tall task for anybody.”
One step into the Eagles locker room, off to the right, is an unmistakable vibe coming from “DB Row,” particularly amongst the team’s wealthy contingent of young cornerbacks, including Josh Jobe, Eli Ricks, Goodrich and Ringo.
Amid the lighthearted fun is a glaring sense of unity. A brotherhood.
So when Goodrich stepped into a more prominent role, support from his locker neighbors poured in without waver.
“I’m proud of Mario,” beamed Ringo, a rookie fourth-rounder. “Just seeing his entire journey from training camp, from the day I met him. Just wanted to continue to learn and do his part.
“At first, it was a little more of nickel and also some at corner. Things happen throughout the season, and I feel like he was able to step up and do that. And I could just see the smile on his face after the game of just how hard he’s been working. It’s next-man-up mentality.”
Aside from dissecting film at a higher frequency and prioritizing his recovery methods – staying in the cold tub longer, pre-habbing and rehabbing, and getting more sleep – not much has changed for Goodrich, who not long ago patrolled the Eagles locker room incognito as a deep reserve.
And as he awaits his Monday Night Football debut, the 23-year-old vowed to remain even-keeled.
“I’ll be calm,” Goodrich said. “I’ll probably watch some Call of Duty videos after I finish going over some plays or something. I’ll be chill.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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