EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the eighth straight season, the New York Giants will have a new starting middle linebacker when they open the season against the Dallas Cowboys. It has been ring-around-a-linebacker.
Whether it has been Jonathan Goff, Greg Jones, Chase Blackburn, Mark Herzlich, Jon Beason, Uani Unga or Kelvin Sheppard, they have lacked stability and, sometimes, credibility at one of the most important positions on the defense. That may be about to change.
Enter B.J. Goodson. He walk, talks, hits and commands the huddle like a middle linebacker who might have some longevity rather than be a one-year answer. Goodson has shown early this summer he may be the young middle linebacker the Giants have been missing since Antonio Pierce, now a coaching assistant mentoring last year’s fourth-round pick, was manning the position.
“He’s a young player, a physical football player,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “Every time you see him move, he moves around like a Mike linebacker. We’re excited to see what he can do for us.”
What Goodson has done at practice is play with the physicality and edge you would expect to see from a middle linebacker. He hasn’t been shy to knock running backs to the ground or give them an extra nudge at the end of a play. He’s looked solid against the run and as an occasional pass-rusher.
Goodson also seems to handle himself in the huddle like a middle linebacker. It’s a unique brand that is recognizable on and off the field.
“I’ve definitely heard that there’s a certain personality that a linebacker has. I bring that aura of ... just people want to be around a middle linebacker,” Goodson said. “There’s just a certain feeling of wellness being around a middle linebacker. Just making sure everybody is in the right position, making sure the other 10 guys are comfortable and ready to do their jobs. I embrace it.”
Goodson, 24, doesn’t do anything special. He just acts himself.
“You can’t fake that, it has to be real,” he said. “You have to have that in you. There’s a lot of guys who try to fake it and they’re not successful at it.”
Goodson’s teammates seem sold. Part of it might be what he’s done on the practice field, playing with the athleticism and edge you would expect to see from a young middle linebacker. He knocked wide receiver Sterling Shepard to the ground one day. He scrapped with running back Orleans Darkwa the next.
“B.J. is good at thudding,” McAdoo said. “The backs need to feel it. The linebackers need to feel it. There has to be contact there.”
It’s more than the physicality that has Goodson taking every first-team snap at middle linebacker this summer. The Giants like the way he handles the huddle with poise and confidence, and the way he moves and operates in traffic and space.
It’s imperative given his role in the defense.
“The leader,” Goodson said of how he views his role. “I see myself as the leader, even though we have veteran guys. Those guys are looking at me for the calls and looking for me as far as responding to certain things.”
Goodson has a good support system to make the transition smoothly. The Giants have a veteran defense and Pierce has been in that same position before. He was the Giants’ starting middle linebacker from 2005-09, and has been providing Goodson advice on how to be more of a vocal leader in a veteran group.
Given his experience, Pierce’s advice holds a little more clout.
“I want to say it’s because I feel that he’s been in that position before. That definitely gives him more of my ear,” Goodson said. “He has a green light on more of my ear on certain things.”
The Giants made the decision this offseason that they didn’t need to re-sign Sheppard, last year’s starting middle linebacker. They felt Goodson was ready to handle the role. He’s more athletic and physically gifted than Sheppard, anyway.
Goodson showed enough this spring to convince the Giants he was ready. His teammates appear to be on board.
“He’s doing a really good job,” linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said. “The Mike linebacker position is a very difficult position to play. And for a young guy to come in and basically be named the starter on a very good defense with some really known and integral parts on the back end and the front end -- for him to be the middle, which is the glue, the captain, the pilot of our defense -- that says a lot.
“... I think he’s doing a really good job and as time progresses, I think we’re going to see his mind expand and also his game expand as well.”
An upgrade at middle linebacker could make a good Giants defense even better. They allowed the second-fewest points in the NFL last season.
As it stands, it’s Goodson’s job to lose and nothing he’s done so far indicates that will happen.