With all the roles he might play for the Carolina Panthers, there’s a reason they’re willing to keep waiting for Mike Goodson.
The physical ability is alarming ; it just needs to be channeled. He showed Saturday night what he’s capable of, but with Goodson, even the highlights need some explaining.
The fast-as-a-finger-snap running back had 139 combined yards on six touches Saturday against Tennessee, showing the kind of game-breaking ability the Panthers hoped to tap since drafting him in the fourth round a year ago.
“He worked very hard this offseason,” Panthers coach John Fox said. “Typically a second-year player does make a pretty good jump. He put a lot of time, both in the weight room and conditioning and his playbook.
“So I think he’s just playing faster. He always had good natural speed, but now he’s playing faster and I think you were able to see that the other night.”
As impressive as his touchdown return on a 91-yard kickoff against Tennessee was, you have to look back over the previous week as well to see his progress.
Against the Jets, the opening kickoff was 5 yards deep in the end zone, and teammate Robert McClain tried to throw up the stop sign for him. But Goodson brought it out. A 19-yard return left the Panthers at the New York 14, his exuberance costing them 6 yards. The next one was similarly buried in the end zone, and he started as if he was coming out before taking a knee. A fourth-quarter chance he bobbled, then tried to reverse field twice for a 6-yard return and an unforgivable starting position at the 2.
He said he needed to make up for it Saturday against Tennessee, and he did despite a forgivable mis-step.
The return was set up for him to take the kick to the right. But after a few strides, Goodson saw a small crease and faded back to the left. After breaking one arm tackle, he bounced off a harmless pile and then shot to the other sideline.
“I kind of just skeeted out the back side,” he said with a grin, saying there never was any danger of the pile bringing him down.
From there, it was pure speed, as no Titans player had an angle to catch him.
“Yeah, it was supposed to hit right,” Goodson said. “But it kind of opened up on the back side, and I just hit that hole.”
He also popped a 27-yard run on a quick burst off-tackle and had an 18-yard reception. Those plays show the potential that has the Panthers trying to invent roles for him.
With DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart occupying the first two spots on the running back depth chart, there are only going to be so many carries for him or Tyrell Sutton. And since he’s only recently begun to be trustworthy as a blocker, there have been limited chances for him on third down.
Most of his work, at least in the short term, will come as a kickoff returner. He was in and out of that role as a rookie, averaging 20.7 yards as he worked to learn the return game.
Now, he knows that could be his best chance to shine.
That’s why he was kicking himself after the Jets game, knowing he can’t afford such hesitation or mistakes in the regular season.
“When you make a mistake, you let your teammates and the guys who count on you down,” he said. “So you kind of want to show those guys you’re here for a reason, and I wanted to make up for what I did the previous week.”
Toward that end, he has spent more time working on the Xs and Os of the return game, knowing his speed won’t always be able to bail him out.
“You want to make sure you’re assignment-sound, you’re doing the things you’re supposed to do the way you’re supposed to do it,” he said. “Then after you get the things they want you to do, then you make a play. Just make sure you cover your bases first.”
Whether it’s a rare run, a chance to split out wide on third down, or just returning kickoffs, Goodson is happy for the opportunity.
“It’s my chance to touch the ball and contribute to the team,” Goodson said. “So I’ve got to make the best out of what I get.”