Back in his ‘second home,’ Jonathan Goodwin gets right to work with the Saints

From Saints offensive line coach Bret Ingalls’ viewpoint, center Jonathan Goodwin moves around as well as he did before he departed for San Francisco three seasons ago.

His weight’s about the same. And the Saints’ blocking schemes haven’t changed that much, even though right guard Jahri Evans is the only current New Orleans offensive lineman who started alongside Goodwin in his last game with the Saints at the end of the 2010 campaign, back when Ingalls coached running backs.

In Ingalls’ words: “There may be a tweak here or there. ... (But) he says, ‘I got it.’ He’s done it before; he just called it something else.”

Ingalls’ remarks echoed a theme that emerged in conversations with and about Goodwin at the Saints practice facility Thursday in Metairie, following the veteran center’s third practice at voluntary organized team activities since signing a one-year deal with the Saints Tuesday. That theme was familiarity.

Goodwin, 35, developed that familiarity when he joined the Saints in 2006, the first year in New Orleans for coach Sean Payton.

It grew in the next five seasons as the Saints qualified for the playoffs three times, reached the NFC Championship Game twice and won Super Bowl XLIV.

It was why, when he got the chance to leave for San Francisco in free agency on a three-year, $10.9 million contract in 2011, “it was probably one of the toughest decisions I had in my life,” said Goodwin, who was chosen for the Pro Bowl the season the Saints claimed their lone NFL crown.

“I changed my mind like twice,” Goodwin said of the day he agreed to join the 49ers. “It was a rough decision for me and my family. We love being here.”

Goodwin thrived for a 49ers line whose job it was to create holes for one of the NFL’s most intricate rushing attacks. San Francisco finished eighth, fourth and third in yards on the ground from 2011-13. The 49ers appeared in the NFC title game all three years, reached the Super Bowl once and beat the Saints in two of three meetings.

The Saints noticed.

“Boy, he’s playing good there, too,” Ingalls said.

“I had a lot more responsibilities in San Francisco (than in New Orleans),” Goodwin said. “We did a lot of different things, so I think it made me a lot smarter on the field.”

Meanwhile, Goodwin understood part of his job was to mentor his younger backup, 26-year-old Daniel Kilgore. He did that and, this offseason, the 49ers opted to let Kilgore compete with third-round pick Marcus Martin to be their center of the future.

Goodwin could seek work on the open market, they decided. And the Saints were eager suitors.

According to Payton, Goodwin kept a home in the St. Charles Parish community of Luling. And the Saints starting center since 2011, Brian de la Puente, had left for Chicago in April.

New Orleans coaches and players said they’re high on the potential of one possible heir to de la Puente: second-year interior lineman Tim Lelito. He started in two wins at right guard as a rookie and had practiced some at center, but team brass was vocal about wanting him to audition against serious competition.

Media, fans and even casual NFL observers for months mentioned Goodwin as an obvious possibility. Saints players had the same thought, as starting right tackle Zach Strief made apparent Thursday.

Strief, a seventh-round pick by the Saints in ’06, said he sent his best wishes to de la Puente via text message upon hearing the center was bound for Chicago. He texted Goodwin 10 seconds later.

“Call the Saints, buddy,” Strief wrote. “See if you can get out here.”

Goodwin visited the Saints within days. They told him to think about returning. He did — for 48 hours — and resolved he needed to.

“I look at New Orleans as my second home,” said Goodwin, a native of Columbia, South Carolina. “This is where my career turned around and I had my most success. ... It was definitely a situation I was attracted to.”

Goodwin and the Saints didn’t immediately strike an agreement. Aside from what Goodwin described as tepid interest from the 49ers, New Orleans was really the only team to show firm interest.

But the Saints waited until after June 1, when veteran signings no longer affected NFL teams’ chances of getting compensatory draft selections in 2015. It also was past when the Saints held their first three OTAs, but Payton figured the 13-year veteran could catch up quickly.

Goodwin began doing just that after signing a minimum deal paying him a $955,000 base salary and a $65,000 signing bonus. He worked with the second team Thursday as Lelito handled first-string duties — as he did May 29, the most recent OTA to which media had access.

“He’s someone that knows the system,” Payton said. “I think the transition for a player like him will be fairly rapid.”

Goodwin, who vowed to mentor Lelito like he did Kilgore no matter who the Saints starting center is in 2014, concurred.

“I’ve had a couple instances where I’ve heard a new word and had to ask some questions,” he said. “But I’ve been able to pick up on the counts and stuff — the play calls — as if I never left.”

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