Goodson eyes familiar path at cornerback
Sitting inside his locker Friday afternoon, Demetri Goodson rapidly lists off the success stories that make up one of the NFL's deepest cornerback rooms.
Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House, the four interchangeable facets of the Green Bay Packers' fifth-ranked passing defense.
It wasn't always that way, though. Before the Packers had confidence to deploy any of the four, each cornerback had to earn the coaching staff's trust.
House, who likely will be starting in place of an injured Shields this Sunday against Carolina, didn't play a defensive snap his rookie season. Williams, the lone Pro Bowler of the bunch, started his career on the practice squad.
Now, it's Goodson who is looking to blaze a path up the depth chart, but the transition from Sweet 16 point guard to NFL cornerback hasn't been easy.
As the rookie has learned, the process requires patience from all parties involved.
"The good thing about these guys is they all were in my spot," said Goodson, a sixth-round pick in May's draft. "I'm not really a guy that gets down about anything like that and practice as hard as I possibly can. ... The first year is all about learning, getting my feet wet, but also being able to be ready when your time is called."
Goodson came to the Packers with a lot of raw potential. He spent three seasons on the Gonzaga University basketball team before deciding he wanted to play football like his older brother Mike, a former running back for Carolina, Oakland and the New York Jets.
So Goodson transferred to Baylor to rejoin a sport he hadn't played since his sophomore year at Klein Collins (Texas) High School.
The 5-foot-11, 197-pound cornerback played only one full season at Baylor after ankle and arm injuries ended his first two campaigns. Still, the Packers saw something they liked during a senior season in which he had 26 tackles, three interceptions and 16 pass deflections.
Right away, the Packers knew they were inheriting a project at arguably the deepest position on the roster. Along with their four cornerbacks, the Packers returned do-everything veteran Jarrett Bush and practice-squad holdover Jumal Rolle.
Goodson, who's old for a rookie at 25, showed his inexperience at times in the preseason. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed six catches for 112 yards in three games. By the same measurement, Goodson conceded at least one explosive gain of more than 26 yards in each appearance.
Goodson's vetting process ended when he suffered a concussion in the Packers' third preseason game against Oakland, raising questions about whether general manager Ted Thompson would stick with the draft pick's upside or Rolle's strong play.
The Packers waived Rolle, who returned to their practice squad before signing onto Houston's roster Oct. 1.
Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt was high on both players. Even when there was outside criticism, his confidence about Goodson's potential didn't waver. The rookie has been inactive for the first six games of the regular season, but Whitt sees growth in practice.
"He's coming," Whitt said. "I know what everybody in the world (says) because I read everything. They're down on the kid. They don't think the kid can play, this, that and the third. They will be proven — Well, he's going to prove himself right. He's going to prove himself that he is worthy of being on this team and worthy of being a Green Bay Packer."
Goodson has seen how working against the likes of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb every day in practice can impact your game. At Baylor, he leaned on his natural ability to get by. You need more in the NFL.
Whether it's in the film room or the cafeteria, it takes a greater attention to detail to hang with the best receivers. After working mostly as a man-coverage defender in college, Goodson is learning the nuances of Dom Capers' zone-blitz scheme.
It's a transition every cornerback has needed to make in Green Bay. House remembers not wanting to use his hands when he first arrived, which was maddening for Whitt. Three years later, it's the strength of his game.
When reviewing the film, Goodson knows his preseason was a mix of good and bad plays. There are obvious things he'd like to have done differently, but mainly it starts with confidence.
"I gave people a little too much credit instead of giving myself a little more credit," Goodson said. "Now, I'm more patient. I'm more confident. Coming from basketball making that switch, I was doing good, but I still didn't feel like a football player. It's just the time off kind of hurt me a little bit but now I actually feel like I'm a football player. I don't panic. I know my strengths."
Injuries to Shields (knee) and Tramon Williams (ankle) opened up more reps for Bush and Goodson this week in practice, but it's no certainty the rookie will play against the Panthers, even if both veterans sit.
That's OK with Goodson. He's ready whenever his name shows up on the game-day 46. It's the same path most of the cornerbacks have traveled in Green Bay.
The Packers don't shell out first-round picks for stars like Darrelle Revis. They develop projects like Shields, an undrafted free agent in 2010 who converted from receiver to cornerback during his senior year at Miami.
There were a few bumps in the road, but he soon developed into a shutdown cornerback whose play demanded a $40 million contract in March.
Goodson has a long way to go to start cashing those kind of checks, but one quick look around the room proves a player doesn't need to knock down the door immediately to make a lasting impact.
As the locker room empties, Goodson hopes that trend is a harbinger of what's to come.
"It's been a process," Goodson said. "The coaches know that I can play and I have skills. It's just polishing those skills and becoming a better cornerback. I feel like they definitely see it in me now."
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod
How Packers cornerbacks fared their first NFL season
Tramon Williams (176 def. snaps, 16 games): 17 tackles, four pass deflections, one interception
Sam Shields (621 def. snaps, 14 games): 29 tackles, six pass deflections
Davon House (0 def. snaps, 2 games): One tackle
Casey Hayward (703 def. snaps, 16 games): 53 tackles, 21 pass deflections, six interceptions
Jarrett Bush (10 games): 10 tackles
*Available snap counts courtesy of Pro Football Focus