The New Orleans Saints finally found their way into the win column on Sunday, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 20-9 ahead of a potentially high-scoring showdown with the Dallas Cowboys at Jerry World next weekend. However, they still found a way to sustain a loss on the day, as starting center Jonathan Goodwin went down with what is being reported as a dreaded high-ankle sprain.
Goodwin, a twelve-year veteran who was re-signed by the Saints in June following a successful three-year stay with the San Francisco 49ers, injured his left ankle in the third quarter of Sunday's win. He was seen in the locker room after the game with a walking boot and crutches, though he expressed some optimism in regards to the injury saying the prognosis was better than originally thought.
The Michigan alum, who played for New Orleans between 2006-2010, winning a Super Bowl along the way, was immediately replaced in the lineup by Tim Lelito, who he competed with in training camp for the starting spot at center. Lelito's very first snap went right through QB Drew Brees' hands in the shotgun, though Brees would likely be the first to admit that he should have handled it more comfortably. Jonathan Goodwin's injury opens the door for Tim Lelito to state his case for more action at center.
Lelito, an undrafted rookie free agent in 2013, received a negative grade from Pro Football Focus across 176 snaps last season, but settled into yesterday's game after his inital snap, and eventually graded out positively in more than a quarter of action according to PFF. Goodwin's injury now opens the door for the Grand Valley State alum, who played mostly as a guard in college and in his limited action last year, to prove his salt in the middle of the Saints' offensive line.
The Saints' coaching staff has been quite high on Lelito dating back to last season. Goodwin was signed with a view to both compete with and mentor Lelito, and eventually won the job after the pair mostly split reps with the first-team in training camp.
With Goodwin likely to miss at least a couple of weeks, Lelito will be blooded instantly next week against a Dallas unit that ranks 22nd in the league in total defense through three games. The Saints could look to reinsert Goodwin to the lineup upon his return in an attempt to ease Lelito's development, but if the 2nd-year man proves he is capable of handling the job and looks comfortable and effective, New Orleans could just as likely keep rolling along with the younger center.
Coach Sean Payton declined comment Monday when asked about Goodwin's injury and subsequent prognosis, but multiple media outlets reported the nature of the ailment. Payton did, however, say that he was hopeful of seeing continued progress and improvement from his young center.
"He has played before for us, at guard, and every one of those guys, because of what you carry on game day, are a snap away from having to play," Payton said. "We will learn from that and grade the film that he was in there and hopefully he will improve in that area."
Goodwin, 35, has not missed a regular season start since 2008, his third season in what was his first stint with the Saints.