Demetri Goodson made a startling admission.
“I had no clue what was going on last year,” the Green Bay Packers’ second-year cornerback said on Tuesday.
Goodson spent three years playing basketball at Gonzaga, including two seasons as the starting point guard. Following the 2010-11 season, in which he helped the Zags win a conference championship and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament, Goodson quit basketball and enrolled at Baylor in hopes of joining his brother, running back Mike Goodson, in the NFL.
After missing most of the 2011 and 2012 seasons due to injuries, Goodson started 10 games in 2013 — finishing sixth in the nation with 1.45 passes defensed per game.
His raw ability got him selected in the sixth round of last year’s draft. He was not even close, however, to being ready to contribute.
“Man, when I first got here, I felt lost,” Goodson said.
He couldn’t find his way out of the woods because, even with a room full of veterans ready with a compass, he was afraid to ask for directions.
“Coach would tell somebody like a certain thing to do and I’d be like, ‘I have no idea what he’s talking about,’” Goodson said. “Then, I was scared to say something because I don’t want to feel stupid or anything like that.”
Incredibly, Goodson had the courage to give up a sport he was really good at to bet on himself in another sport, but he lacked the guts to ask his peers for help. Goodson eventually learned the language spoken by cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt and veterans like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields.
“I guess just being around and just watching all the guys, I picked it up,” Goodson said. “When I first got here, I played two years of football — really one year because I got hurt. Coming back from hooping, the concepts and the terminology part of it, I just really didn’t understand certain things. Last year, I was like the only one that wasn’t really playing. I came in with straight vets, so it was tough for me. When I got close to the guys and they started helping me out with the calls and things like that, I started to pick it up like that.”
Goodson played in six games as a rookie. He didn’t play a snap on defenses, though he did force his way into the special-teams lineup for five of the final six regular-season games.
This offseason, Casey Hayward’s pain has been Goodson’s gain. With Williams in Cleveland, Davon House in Jacksonville and Hayward out until training camp with an ankle injury, Goodson has been elevated to the first unit. Not only has that meant quality reps against Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson, but it’s put him on the field with veterans Shields, Micah Hyde and Morgan Burnett, who know the defense inside and out.
“The movement aspect is good but it’s learning the defense, understanding why I’m making checks, where my help is, why I’ve got to play this leverage,” Whitt said last week. “That’s the part where we have to increase our knowledge on. It’s not the athletic ability part of it. It’s, ‘Why are we doing what we’re doing?’ I don’t want you just to do it. I want you to know why. Once you understand why, now you can play fast. That’s what I’ve got to do a better job of is getting him up to speed on why he’s doing what he’s doing.”
Finally, Goodson said, it’s all starting to click. Thirteen months onto the job, he feels like an honest-to-goodness cornerback rather than an incredibly skilled athlete trying to play cornerback. He said he has no intention of simply stepping aside when Hayward returns for training camp, saying instead that he envisions a “little battle” between himself and the proven playmaker.
“I feel like when I first got here, I was learning how to play corner. Now, I feel like I’m an actual cornerback,” he said. “Playing cornerback isn’t just going out there and just covering guys. It’s a lot more thinking involved. I feel like I got 10 times smarter than I was last year. Last year, I was out here just holding people. Now, I’m thinking with the game. Now, I’m reading stuff now, reading the drop of (the quarterback) – three steps and stuff like that – just all the small things that you can learn that will help your game.”email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.