John Goodman made quite a first impression in sporadic appearances last season. But his contributions were a microcosm of the 2009 Irish: in short, the highlight reel was far prettier than the coach's tape.
Goodman's assimilation to the college game last year – his first opportunity as a contributor to the Irish offense – included the following, eye-opening moments:
- In the season-opener vs. Nevada, Goodman fielded a punt – his first collegiate touch – and returned the offering 24 yards.
- Following cameo appearances vs. Michigan State and Washington, Goodman earned a surprise start vs. rival USC. His first touch from scrimmage occurred on Notre Dame's second offensive play when, lined up as a read-option quarterback, Goodman sprinted over right tackle for a 13-yard gain and Irish first down. He recorded the first pass reception of his college career on the potential game-tying drive (subsequently fumbled, but recovered his own mistake).
- Goodman remained in the rotation vs. Boston College one week later, recording a career-high 3 receptions for 22 yards. Seven days later, Goodman notched his first career touchdown, reeling in a 64-yard strike down the post from Dayne Crist vs, Washington State, establishing a personal-best 73 receiving yards on the evening.
Used sparingly in November due largely to the return of WR Michael Floyd, Goodman revealed few obvious weaknesses in his first dose of action, making the most of limited opportunities while appearing in 8 games and finishing with 12 total touches (6 receptions, 2 rushes, 4 punt returns) that resulted in 174 yards and a score.
The major element of the game missing from Goodman's 2009 season?
There's a justifiable reason why a playmaker such as Goodman was unable to wrest the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver role from Duval Kamara and/or Robby Parris; or why he couldn't beat out Shaquelle Evans through the first five games – the span prior to the freshman's permanent residency in the offense's doghouse.
A closer review of Goodman's key snaps shows he lacked what new head coach Brian Kelly would refer to as, "attention to detail."
- Michigan State: For the second consecutive week, the Irish had a chance to close out an opponent with a third down completion. And as was the case 7 days prior vs. Michigan when the freshman Evans ran a poor comeback route that sailed incomplete, an Irish receiver once again failed to execute a pass route in crunch time. With the Irish facing 3rd and 6 from their own 34-yard line, Goodman's late break on a six-yard out-route caused the pass to glance off the sophomore's hands incomplete. MSU was afforded one final drive for the go-ahead score, but the Irish defense bailed out the offense in a 33-30 victory.
- Boston College: Running an out-route in the first quarter, Goodman began his cut at 10 yards before securing a perfect pass from Clausen. He proceeded to step out of bounds (with room to spare and the defender at least a full tick away) one yard short of the marker.
Two drives later, Goodman took in an 8-yard out from Clausen and strolled out of bounds (a full two steps). His defending cornerback had fallen down on the catch. At worst, Goodman had extra yardage available to him; at best, the sideline and open field was his.
Goodman was targeted for a season-high five passes in the first half vs. the Eagles (suffering one relative drop, though he did absorb a nice hit). His sloppy route-running was likely the determining factor when no passes were thrown in his direction over the final 30 minutes of the contest.
To bring further scrutiny (certainly in the film room), I had Goodman down for three complete failures on outside blocking attempts in the second half alone vs. Boston College Ian area in which his competition for playing time, Duval Kamara, excels).
Moments of brilliance do not offset negligence of necessary tasks at wide receiver and former head coach Charlie Weis saw these blemishes in the young Goodman (as well as others) last season.
When Brian Kelly spoke of the receivers in less-than-glowing terms throughout the spring, it was likely due to a recurrence of these seemingly minor infractions. They're anything but minor when you finish 6-6.
Goodman's Season OutlookWhen the dust settled surrounding the hire of Coach Kelly, I began to think of potential breakout performers for 2010. Kelly's spread offense ensures a tweak of personnel if not widespread change and Goodman was my choice as the chief beneficiary of the new era.
Quick enough with the ball to perform in the slot; fast enough to serve as a backside receiver; competitive and confident enough to fill any role presented to him, the junior from Fort Wayne appears to be the type of athlete a coach of Kelly's ilk could mold into a force in the college game.
Goodman though never appeared to secure a role as his own over the course of the 15-practice spring session. He suffered a foot injury during practice No. 11 but did start the following weekend in the Blue Gold Game, and emerged as one of the team's four leading punt return candidates (though no special teams action was deemed live).
At the tail end of spring practice, I wrote that "Goodman appears to be much more ‘athlete' than ‘receiver'; but that might not be a bad thing with Rudolph/Floyd/Toma already serving the role of technically sound, chain-moving targets; Goodman does present a nice target on slant routes, even if he's the fourth man, he'll be heavily involved and receive plenty of touches.
Goodman can uncoil and sprint past the defense, but also possesses the one-cut ability to create space vs. would-be-tacklers. That skill makes him more dangerous with the ball or after the catch than Duval Kamara, Robby Toma, and (likely) Deion Walker.
He offers a bigger target over the middle than Shaq Evans or freshman Tai-ler Jones and unlike the bulk of the pass-catcher candidates (not including Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph), Goodman has already experienced a heavy pressure situation, serving as the team's fourth wideout on the field for the bulk of the final drive vs. USC.
What Goodman lacks to date – along with his peers at the position – is an appreciable level of consistency: the necessary attention to detail, play-to-play, that is needed to excel for a Brian Kelly team. I expect Goodman to take the next step in his development and eventually work his way into a starting position next fall (if not a technical starter, a player that is part of the action in crunch time.)
An appreciation of the necessary baby steps will allow Goodman to make great strides over the next three seasons.