Linebacker Najee Goode made the most of his second chance on Thursday night. It might help him get a second season on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' regular-season roster.
The Buccaneers played their final preseason game against Washington on Thursday, a 30-12 loss that was contested almost exclusively by reserves on both teams. Goode, for instance, started at middle linebacker for Tampa Bay while Mason Foster joined most of his fellow defensive starters on the sideline. With almost two dozen of the Buccaneers' 75 players sitting out, Goode was one of the many reserves who saw their most extensive playing time of the preseason, and that opportunity couldn't have come at a better time. All 32 NFL teams will trim their teams to 53 players by Saturday at 6:00 p.m., which means this week's preseason finales were the final proving grounds for hundreds of roster hopefuls.
Only the Buccaneer coaches know if Goode, the former West Virginia standout who arrived as a fifth-round draft pick in 2012, was completely secure or on the bubble heading into Thursday's game. But if he was looking to make one last argument in his favor, a 37-yard pick-six for the Bucs' only touchdown of the game was a flashy way to do it. That turnover, early in the second quarter, came just moments after a chance for another big play slipped through Goode's fingers.
Two minutes into the second quarter, Pat White (Goode's former teammate at West Virginia) and the Washington offense started a new drive at the Redskins' 28. White threw down the middle of the field on first down, trying to hit wide receiver Lance Lewis. Goode read the play and trailed Lewis down the middle, putting him in position to make a leaping effort for an interception. The pass went through his hands, but it wasn't an easy play, and it was still a helpful pass break-up for the Bucs' defense.
A mere two plays later, Goode made sure he didn't miss another chance to get his hands on the football. This time White tried to hit WR Nick Williams on a quick-hitter in the left flat and Goode read it all the way. The second-year linebacker waited, then sprang as soon as White started to throw, cutting into the path of the ball and catching it cleanly. Goode had to reach back a little bit to make the interception, but that didn't stop him from sprinting out into the clear and running untouched all the way to the end zone.
"We called a good coverage for our defense, and it was just reading the quarterback's eyes and stepping with the ball, [with] long arms like Coach [Greg] Schiano teaches us," he said. "I got my hands on the first one, and when the second one I came around I made sure I put my hands together and just ran for my life.
"As soon as he threw it, I got my eyes on the ball and looked it all the way in."
White got the better of his fellow Mountaineer alum on the scoreboard, leading the Redskins to a 27-6 lead and scoring six points himself on a third-down scramble that ended with a dive to the right pylon. Goode at least earned a fraction of the postgame bragging rights with his thievery of White in the second quarter. Assuming he's on the 53-man roster, Goode will reconnect with another former West Virginia quarterback in the Buccaneers' next game, as Geno Smith potentially makes the opening-day start for the New York Jets.
"He was talking all during the game and I told him, 'You scored a touchdown so I've got to score one, too,'" said Goode with a laugh. "After that, he was [upset] but he said if he was going to throw it to anybody he might as well throw it to me. It's crazy that we're about to go out there and play another one of my teammates with Geno. If I get a chance to pick him, I'm going to do it, too."
Goode obviously played his position perfectly on that play. On Friday, Buccaneer coaches will assess the entire game film and determine how he and the other Tampa Bay reserves performed on each and every snap. While roster decisions will be based on the players' entire body of offseason, training camp and preseason – as well as specific team needs in many cases – Thursday's results will be part of the equation. More than one eye-catching play, however, Goode wants the coaches to see that he has been making steady, ongoing progress.
"It's important to show the coaches that we're constantly improving, going over things, especially getting ready for the season," he said. "You want to see constant improvement out of everybody. That's just a step that you need to take to get better.
"This preseason was long and we learned a lot and got closer with new guys like [Jonathan Casillas] and the defensive linemen we brought in. It's just another step in the right way. We've still got stuff to improve on but we'll take it back to the chalkboard tomorrow and get better."