Najee Goode spent the preseason last year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. When he finally became an Eagle, it was six days before he had to play. An entire summer of OTAs, minicamps, meetings, training camp practices and playbook study sessions were squeezed into a week.
Despite trying to play catch-up all year, Goode acquitted himself quite well, most of the season on special teams but also in two November games, when injuries forced him onto the field in place of inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks.
Now Goode is a year older, a year smarter, a year more familiar with Billy Davis' scheme.
And instead of wondering what will happen if Goode has to play, the Eagles are trying to find ways to get him on the field.
Goode has been getting some reps with the first-team defense as defensive coordinator Billy Davis tries to temper DeMeco Ryan’s practice time, and although Ryans and Kendricks aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, it’s been a terrific opportunity for the 25-year-old Goode.
“Najee’s a great player,” Ryans said. “Talented guy, fast guy, he’s really smart, and that what allowed Najee to step in as quick as he did last year.
“He came in after training camp, but he picked up on the defense really quick. Most of us had been here throughout the summer, but he picked it up faster than any of us.”
The Buccaneers released Goode last Sept. 1, and the Eagles claimed him on waivers. He wound up playing 14 games, mainly on special teams, where he got 229 snaps, or about 16 per game.
But when Kendricks hurt his knee early in the Green Bay game, Goode played the rest of the game, then he made his first start a week later with Kendricks inactive.
The Eagles won both those games, 27-13 over the Packers and 24-16 over the Redskins, on their way to a 7-1 second half, a 10-6 record and their first NFC East title since 2010.
Goode had played in three games as a rookie fifth-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2012, but he got just three snaps on defense, 48 on special teams. So the Green Bay and Washington games were the first he had played significant snaps at linebacker in the NFL.
“Those games were huge for me,” Goode said. “Green Bay, not even knowing I was going to get in the game, but going in and doing my part. And then shutting out a team like the Redskins, No. 1 rushing team in the NFL, shutting them out for three quarters.”
Goode definitely caught the eye of Davis, who has been looking for ways to reduce Ryans’ snaps. Ryans played more snaps last year than any defensive player in the NFL, and Goode has earned the trust of Davis to go out and play a series or two here and there to give Ryans a spell.
“He’s proven he can do that,” Ryans said. “You see the games he got in, Green Bay, Mychal goes out and Naj comes in and we don’t miss a beat and play really good defensively. Comes back Washington game, tough offense, he comes in and nails it.
“To have a quality guy like that is just really great for our group, and it helps us to be versatile as a group. Najee, he can start in this league.”
As well as Goode played last year, he should be much farther along this year since he’s had a chance to spend the offseason with the Eagles and not in Tampa.
It’s not easy spending an entire summer with one team and mastering one system and then changing teams seven days before opening day and being asked to go play.
“It was hard, but I had good guys to learn from,” Goode said. “The hard part was just really learning to make the calls because with us, inside linebacker you’ve got to make the calls. But Mike and DeMeco, just being around them, coming in and putting in extra time, helped me get the defense down.
“This offseason, I stayed in Philly, doing the same thing over and over again and finally had the time to really learn the defense. Definitely a whole lot farther along than last year, just the mental understanding, knowing the technique, getting our keys, doing the things we have to do as far as reading and reacting ... just being around here and learning.
“This is one of the hardest offenses in the league and just playing defense against them is boosting my confidence a lot. And just being able to take some reps with the starters, that does a lot for my confidence.
“They’re giving me a chance. Whatever chance they give me, I’m going to take full advantage of it.
“In the NFL, you’ve got to be perfect, and DeMeco does a lot of things right, and that they might trust me to go in for him, it’s a huge confidence booster to know that they trust me. Once I get that chance, I just need to go out on the field and do the right thing.”