<span>Times are good for Saints center Jonathan Goodwin.
The Black-and-Gold's 6-3, 318-pound product of the University of Michigan is by nature a quiet and soft spoken sort off of the field, but the look on his face and the bounce in his step on Wednesday at the Saints' organized team activities reaffirmed the fine times Goodwin is experiencing.
Goodwin and his wife, Alnessa, welcomed the birth of their second son, Jace, on Monday.
For Goodwin, the arrival of their healthy newborn son parallels the good fortunes the six year NFL veteran has earned with the Saints, where he is slated to enter his first career training camp holding down the starting center position for one of the most potent offensive attacks in the NFL.
"It's a great feeling," Goodwin said of regularly lining up with the starting offense. "It's really the first time, except when I have stepped in when guys were injured, and taken the snaps with the starters. It feels good, but I know I still have to work hard and make sure I know the plays, what everyone is doing and where to go and make sure I communicate to the rest of the offensive linemen."
Goodwin's career path has been anything but a fairytale foray into the NFL, more so a product of who has been in front of him on depth charts, as opposed to a failing on his part at not having moved into a full-time starting role earlier in his career.
"I look at it like I learned from two of the top centers in the game today in Kevin Mawae and Jeff Faine," said Goodwin. "There were times of frustration, but I just kept working and had faith that one day my time would come."
The journey for Goodwin dates back to his high school days at Lower Richmond High School in Hopkins, South Carolina, where despite being a Top 100 state selection, the majority of major college powers overlooked the interior lineman during the recruiting wars.
Thus Goodwin elected to head north to the rolling green landscape of Athens, Ohio to continue his dream of playing college football for the University of Ohio Bobcats in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). The journey from South Carolina to the midwest wasn't complete foreign territory for a Goodwin, as Jonathan's older brother, Harold, had made a similar trek as a collegian to the University of Michigan in 1992, also as an offensive lineman.
Goodwin transitioned quickly to the next level of play, starting every game at right guard as a freshman at Ohio. Despite his solid play and the prospect of being a four-year starter, Goodwin elected to transfer to Michigan following his freshman season and to step up his level of play to the highest level, even though it required him missing his sophomore season due to NCAA transfer rules.
"I wanted to prove to myself that I could play at a higher level," said Goodwin. "I wanted to push myself."
In 2000, Goodwin became a reliable starter for the Wolverines and went on to play in 29 games, making 20 starts, for the national powerhouse program, and displayed uncanny positional flexibility by playing four positions (center, right guard, left guard and right tackle) during his days in Ann Arbor.
His level of play merited a draft selection in the 2002 NFL Draft, with the New York Jets tabbing him with the 154th overall selection (fifth round). The Jets were in good hands at the center position, with perennial Pro Bowler Kevin Mawae locking down the hub. Thus Goodwin's path to playing time was relegated to spot duty at the guard positions and on special teams.
Despite seeing action in 28 games over the first two years of his career, Goodwin finally got a taste of regular playing time in 2004 with the Jets, making two starts at guard and filling in regularly in an offensive line rotation. At the time, Goodwin took to the coaching of then-Jets offensive line coach Doug Marrone, who spent countless hours with the young Jets linemen before and after practices, working on their techniques and teaching them the nuances of the game, a practice Marrone still utilizes to this day with youngsters such as T Jermon Bushrod, G/C Andy Alleman, G/T Karl Nicks and G Tim Duckworth.
"Those days taught me a lot and through all the work, things became second nature," Goodwin remarked. "At the time you are tired from having practiced two or three hours, and human nature is that you want to get off the field, you don't want to stay outside when it's a hundred degrees and going through a ton of footwork and handwork drills. But now that I look back it, I know it was all worth it."
The hard work paid off for Goodwin and the Jets in 2005 after Mawae suffered a torn left triceps injury in the fifth game of the season and Goodwin stepped in and started the remainder of the games at center.
2006, however, brought changes for both the Saints and the Jets, and in turn, Goodwin.
Marrone was hired as the offensive coordinator of the Saints shortly after Sean Payton was named head coach. Goodwin was a veteran free agent and with a new coaching staff also being put into place in New York, he elected to sign with the Saints, even though the Saints would acquire veteran center Jeff Faine less than a month after Goodwin's arrival.
Goodwin, never one to create waves, quietly fit in among his new peers and set out on his new path, which was providing the Saints with quality depth at the guard positions and as well as Faine's back-up, while also playing in all 16 games on special teams.
2007 once again provided Goodwin an opportunity to show what he could do as a starter, as Faine was hobbled for much of training camp with a strained calf, thus allowing Goodwin the opportunity get plenty of repetitions snapping the ball to Drew Brees and making the calls along the offensive line. The experience as a starter paid dividends for Goodwin and the Saints as Faine was also injured with a pectoral injury midway through the season and Goodwin was once again called upon to step in.
And step in he did, as he helped the Saints to two of their most impressive victories of the season (at Seattle and vs. Jacksonville), as well as a convincing win on the road in San Francisco.
The experience with his new team, according to Goodwin, helped increase his confidence and he knew then that he was ready to be a full-time starter in the NFL.
"The reason that he is ready for this part of his career is because he has worked for it. He has not been handed anything," said Marrone. "He is consistent, he is strong and athletic and the guys around him know he can do it. There aren't peaks and valleys with him. He is the same guy every day. He comes to work, works on improving and grinds at it."
Goodwin, quiet by nature, said he is able to transform into a vocal leader on the field when the time comes, "I am quiet off the field, but I leave that behind when I get on the field because part of my job is to communicate and in front of large crowds with a lot of noise. I wouldn't say people would think I am very quiet then. This is a veteran offensive line. Guys know what they are doing, but we work as a unit."
Last season's game against the Jaguars, who featured one of the most imposing defensive tackle duos in the league with John Henderson and Marcus Stroudt, showcased Goodwin's technique, strength, ability and leadership skills and helped the Saints allow the fewest sacks (16) in the NFL in 2007.
Quarterback Drew Brees likes what he's seen in his two seasons with Goodwin, "I think he's a great player. He stepped in last year when Jeff was injured and we didn't miss a beat," Brees said. "He did a great job and I never felt like we lost anything. He stepped in, we didn't change anything, and we just kept going."
Thus when the off-season came and with Faine on the verge of signing one of the most lucrative long-term contracts ever given to a center, the Saints quietly and confidently inked Goodwin, who also was slated to enter free agency, to a new contract before the free agency period commenced.
With 87 career regular season games under his belt and 15 career starts, as well as three different seasons on playoff teams, Goodwin has scratched and clawed his way into a leadership role with the Saints through determination and consistency, thus making him not an unknown at the position, but a proven commodity that is ready for the increased responsibility that the 2008 season offers.
Goodwin's older brother, Harold, has forged a career as an assistant coach, first in college and then with the Chicago Bears for three seasons before his current appointment working with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The two are close and often talk about the game and share their experiences, triumphs and disappointments.
"Harold has been hard on me my whole life," Goodwin said. "He has always pushed me, coached me and told me to make it better. They weren't the easiest things to hear but it's paid off and I am thankful for it."
The patience, hard work and team first mentality has in indeed apparently started to pay off for Goodwin.
"Goody is a smart player," Brees continued. "He is very athletic and moves well for a big man. He communicates exceptionally with the rest of the line and with the things that we do, the center is really the key to making a lot of the calls. He did a great job of that last year, but now you see the confidence level at a different level with him. It's his time."
The Goodwins' phone lines are busy these days, with lots of good news to share.
According to Goodwin, it's about time.