When the day began, Mario Goodrich had never played in an NFL game.
Not a snap.
Next thing you know he’s on the field playing slot corner. For a Super Bowl team. On national TV. Against Justin Jefferson.
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Welcome to the bigs.
It wasn’t a perfect NFL debut by any means, but the 23-year-old Goodrich battled his way through the game Thursday night and appears to have done enough good things to remain in the slot with Avonte Maddox likely out for the season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle.
Defensive coordinator Sean Desai seemed to imply Wednesday that Goodrich will be the Eagles’ replacement for Maddox, who got hurt in the second quarter of the Eagles’ win over the Vikings at the Linc.
“He's just going to keep growing,” Desai said of Goodrich. “It's his first time playing NFL football in that environment on a Thursday night. What a special moment for him to be able to get out there and do that.
“Now it's time to take the next step and really trust in all of his training and techniques we're teaching him.”
It’s not like the Eagles have a ton of choices.
Zech McPhearson, who began training camp as the backup slot, is out for the year with an Achilles injury. James Bradberry got some work inside during camp, but it sure sounded like Desai plans to keep Bradberry outside – where he was a 2nd-team all-pro last year.
“I was really impressed with how he was taking on that role and not really sacrificing his corner role, because that's his role,” Desai said. “He's our corner.”
That leaves Goodrich, whose 64.7 grade from Pro Football Focus put him 38th out of 96 corners who played at least 20 snaps in Week 2.
Considering the circumstances? That’s awfully impressive.
“He got thrown in the fire there, unexpectedly I'm sure for him,” Desai said. “But that's a great lesson for everybody - to always be prepared, having that-next-man-up mentality."
Goodrich gave up an 18-yard completion from Kirk Cousins to A.J. Osborn on his eighth career snap and a 14-yarder to Jefferson in the fourth quarter, but those were the only significant completions he allowed as the battered Eagles beat the Vikings 34-28.
“I thought he got better as the game progressed," Desai said. "There were some motion things like that early that he kind of just had to feel and settle in there a little bit and gain some confidence.
"Then it's something we emphasize to all the guys, in those moments you have to rely on your preparation and the trust that you have in the techniques we're teaching. He got to that point.”
Like Josh Jobe, Eli Ricks and Reed Blankenship, Goodrich is undrafted. This is the first time in Eagles history they’ve had four undrafted defensive backs 25 and under all play defensive snaps in the same season.
Goodrich has an unusual frame for a slot because at 6-foot, 190 pounds he’s taller and rangier than the typical thicker inside corner.
But the Eagles like him inside, and he showed why Thursday night. According to PFF, he played 39 snaps – 35 were pass plays – and 30 were in the slot. He got one snap at outside corner, one at safety and seven in the box.
What makes a good slot corner?
“You have to have high instincts and really good football savvy and feel,” Desai said. “Because things in the slot happen from the left and the right, as opposed to if you're a corner, things just happen inside of you and you're playing your man on keys.
“Where here, the game happens both ways. You're the primary communicator on bunch and stack tools, you are the primary communicator and adjuster on motions, so there is a level there of not necessarily stress but an extra added layer of how you have to play in that position.
“And then people try to attack the slot in different ways in this league. … So I think all that stuff is what we look for in a slot defender who can handle that stuff and process that stuff and be able to adjust within the scheme to be play those techniques.”