SANTA CLARA -- Understanding Jonathan Goodwin's past is the window to seeing the impact the center has had on the 49ers this season.His NFL career didn't start the way he expected. The fifth-round draft pick out of Michigan had grand ideas of what life in the NFL would be like. Instead, reality struck. Goodwin struggled, and what he struggled with was, well . . .
"Everything," Goodwin said. "Initially, I kind of struggled with pass blocking, and you got to learn to pass block in this league or you won't be around too long."The 6-foot-3 lineman focused on improving his technique, his hand speed and whatever it took to block the players who were bigger and faster than the ones he faced in college.Overseeing his every move was Doug Marrone, Goodwin's first offensive line coach in the league while he was with the New York Jets."In this league, it's easy for coaches to give up on guys that come in and struggle and he didn't give up on me," Goodwin said. "He kept pushing me, and when I struggled he stayed on me."RELATED: Jonathan Goodwin NFL career profile
The results of Goodwin's efforts under Marrone's watch weren't immediate, but by his third year things began to get easier. The real improvement came a few years later. While with New Orleans, Goodwin became the heart of the line."For me, when I moved to center I think it kind of improved my hand speed because I had no choice," Goodwin said. "I had to snap the ball and get my hands up quick. I think that was key for me that position change."Now with a Pro Bowl selection and a Super Bowl championship to his name from his time with the Saints, the center can look back on his early struggles and smile."I always sit back now and think Wow, I've been in this league 10 years,'" Goodwin said chuckling. "When my first two years I was thinking about what I was going to be doing after football right away."Marrone, now the head coach at Syracuse University, had his reasons for believing in Goodwin. In turn, Goodwin saw something in San Francisco, a team that didn't have a winning record or playoff appearance in nearly a decade."Playing against this team last year, I felt like the defense was really talented and Coach (Jim) Harbaugh, (general manager) Trent (Baalke) and those guys did a great job of selling me on some things," Goodwin said. "Just like when I left New York and went to New Orleans, I took a chance, and fortunately things have gone well so far and hopefully they'll stay that way for years to come."After five seasons in New Orleans, the free agent signed a three-year deal with the 49ers. This time, the veteran Goodwin knew what it took to adapt to the change that comes with joining a new team. Goodwin says it took him about two months to feel comfortable in a new offense with new linemates. That time may have been shorter if the 49ers weren't limited in training camp due to the lockout."(I) didn't want to use that as an excuse," Goodwin said, "but we've had some great stretches, and I think the second half of the Cincinnati game and the second half of the Philly game were some times we kind of got clicking and rolling. We still have a way to go but it's nice to know that we can put together some nice stretches."Goodwin anchors a line that hasn't allowed a sack in four games this season and has opened the gaps through which Frank Gore ran to his fifth 1,000-yard season. But it was the 49ers game against Seattle that Goodwin considers one of his best as he successfully handled the silent count, a big improvement from last season.As New Orleans' center during the playoffs, Goodwin experienced the challenges of the raucous stadium as the favored Saints lost to the Seahawks."I think it was big," Goodwin said. "Seattle is the only stadium that I've played in in my career where I've had problems hearing the quarterback, and I experienced that last year. I kind of controlled the count myself this year. It was big for me. It felt a lot different. Instead of me trying to struggle to hear the quarterback, even though he's right behind me, it was huge for me to not have to worry about that."And it's that kind of constant improvement Goodwin expects from himself and the entire line with San Francisco heading to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The 49ers will open their postseason at Candlestick Park Saturday, Jan. 14, at 1:30 p.m. And there's a strong chance it will be against the Saints, Goodwin's former team.RELATED: NFL Wild Card playoff schedule
"Whenever the offensive line is clicking and has a good game, that's usually when we have a successful game," Goodwin said. "If we can get more points in the red zone that would be good for this offense with the way our defense is playing. If we can find a way to get seven points instead of three and give our defense even more points to work with, the sky's the limit for this team."