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Running like a pro

Posted Aug 11, 2009

Mike Goodson has dazzled with his open-field speed, but the most tangible evidence of his progress is in his ability to gain the difficult yards between the tackles. (PHOTO: ANDREW MASON / PANTHERS.COM)


SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- At cursory glance, it might seem as though Mike Goodson's transition to the NFL has been a seamless one.

No new Panther has made the crowds at Wofford College gasp with surprise and awe this year like the fourth-round pick from Texas A&M. The crisp cuts, rapid open-field acceleration and deft darts through the secondary have revealed a potentially game-changing force in an offense already populated with playmakers.

But the adjustment has not been as simple as it might seem. With his immersion into the full-speed, full-contact rigors of the pro game, Goodson has quickly had to tweak every aspect of his on-field game to adjust.

That starts with the most fundamental tenet of his work: hanging on to the football.

"You get in a hole and everybody's swiping at it; everybody's pulling," Goodson said.

"When you hit the holes here, there's a big emphasis on ripping the ball out. Just like that," he said, snapping his fingers, "they can take the ball out. So you've really got to wrap it up when you get inside the holes. When you break out, you can go ahead and loosen it up, but when you're inside the holes, you've really got to wrap it up."

Once he'd figured out the increased emphasis on ball security, Goodson had to start learning how to run. Goodson could use multiple cuts, a double-back through the defense and too many stutter steps to juke defenders on the college level; against a first-team NFL defense, such moves set him up for a series of one-yard losses.

"In college I could run and I could kind of chop my steps a little more, but here it's one step and go.," he said. "You make one cut and you've really got to hit it and turn it on."

The one-cut emphasis gets results. Last year, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart used that simple move to follow their offensive line downhill and become the first running back duo in modern NFL history to each log 800 or more yards and 10 or more touchdowns in a single season.

Another famed example of the one-cut emphasis was in the Mike Shanahan-led offenses of the Denver Broncos, who in their prime produced six different 1,000-yard runners and 11 1,000-yard seasons between 1995 and 2006. The names and numbers on the jerseys changed, but the philosophy remained the same -- one cut and go -- and success became the constant.

But even that can only take Goodson so far. The last step must come from himself, by drawing into a reservoir of strength to blast into the middle, break tackles and scrap for extra yards.

Monday morning in goal-line work, those instincts rose to the surface on two carries in a three-snap span, both of which saw him burst through tacklers for touchdowns. On the first, he dragged linebacker Dan Connor for three yards, bouncing off a lunging Chris Harris in the process. The second, he absorbed a square hit from Charles Godfrey in the open field and lunged across the goal line carrying the second-year safety, whose arms were wrapped around Goodson's waist.

The speed is clearly there with Goodson and always has been. Now the Panthers are learning that he has the decisive cuts, persistence and power needed to handle going inside as well as outside.

There will be bumps to come as the pro transition continues, but his progress is evident.

"(Running backs coach Jim Skipper) always says this is the big leagues," Goodson said. "It really is."

The big leagues are a place for big-timers. Goodson might prove to just that.