B.J. Goodson is settling into his new role as starting middle linebacker:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Kelvin Sheppard played in every game for the 2016 Giants, including 11 in which he started. When he was not re-signed in the offseason, implicit in that decision was the Giants' belief that B.J. Goodson could be their middle linebacker.
It was a leap of faith for the team, considering Goodson played sparingly on defense as a rookie. But the resolution has played out exactly as the Giants would have hoped. With his strong play and take-charge demeanor, Goodson has earned the admiration of his teammates and coaches, and guaranteed he will open the season as the starter at that vital position.
"We have a lot of confidence in B.J.," coach Ben McAdoo said. "He gets better each and every day. He is taking it from the practice field to the game field. And he is working on ripping the ball out, he was doing a good job of that (in practice). He is a guy that gets better with reps and we are excited for B.J."
"He's embraced the whole thing, being a linebacker and taking command," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "I love the look in his eye. The other day, I said something to him maybe a little harsh and he responded just as harsh. Now, I like that in a Mike linebacker. Antonio (Pierce) and I were talking about it, and there weren't many moments like that with A.P. and I. But I like that when there's a little fire in the Mike linebacker."
Goodson claimed not to recall that specific incident, but he has clearly responded to Spagnuolo's instruction.
"I love Spags, because he challenges me as far as being coachable and being able to change things on the fly," Goodson said. "I love it and I accept the challenges."
He embraced the one the Giants handed him in the offseason. Goodson took reps with the first team throughout spring drills and has continued to do so since day one of training camp. After two preseason games, he leads the team with 2.0 sacks and is second with eight tackles (six solo). Goodson is on the fast track to start the season opener in Dallas on Sept. 10 but still approaches each day like he's fighting for a spot on the roster.
"My mentality is the same," he said. "I've always had a chip on my shoulder. That will never change, so as far as my perspective, it will always be the same." Goodson declined to reveal the source of the chip, but said, "It definitely is a big part of my swagger that I have out there. The way that I carry myself, the way that I handle things is definitely a big part of me. It's all about the production, so I'm just using that fire to get the job done."
Goodson, 6-1 and 241 pounds, was a fourth-round draft choice in 2016. He played in the season's final 15 regular-season games, as well as the NFC Wild Card game. Most of his action was on special teams, though he did have two defensive tackles in a Dec. 18 victory against Detroit.
Although he developed as a player and learned from veteran linebackers like Jonathan Casillas and Sheppard, the inactivity was difficult for Goodson. The previous year, he started all 15 games and led a Clemson team that advanced to the national championship game with 160 tackles.
"I have always felt like this was my job, even last year," he said. "You always want to be that guy, so it definitely was disappointing. But you can always learn something from every circumstance. I had a great guy in Shep to learn from, so I took that and used it to my advantage."
Goodson's ascent to the starting lineup has created an interesting dynamic. He is the least-experienced of the projected defensive starters. But he is the player who receives the defensive calls from Spagnuolo and relays them to the rest of the defenders in the huddle.
His older teammates have complete confidence that the younger Goodson can take charge of the defense.
"He is the pilot of the defense," said Casillas, who is entering his ninth NFL season. "Everything basically goes through him. All of the checks, all of the calls go through him, and he is the one that gets everybody lined up. He has been doing a real good job getting everybody going. He took over for a real good veteran leader in Kelvin Sheppard, who did it for years and years and years. As a young guy, he didn't miss a stride. There were some things in OTA's he had to get settled down with, but as the preseason is going along, as we get closer to the season, he is getting better and better. He is getting smarter. He is definitely a smart guy, but he is improving and not making the same mistakes twice."
Goodson appreciates the support from the more experienced players on the field.
"It means a lot to me," he said, "They are enjoying me and I am enjoying them. If they have any concerns or they want me to do anything different, they will come to me. That's what everything is all about. Everything is about communication. Before we even go out there (to practice), we have good feedback and interactions within the building. Everything matters.
"But at the same time, I am always looking for something to get better at. If they tell me I am doing good at something, I want to try to get great at it."
Based on his work this spring and summer, he's off to a good start.