TAMPA — Dashon Goldson's biggest strength at safety is his ability to read the situation and react. That trait also was on display this week when giving a candid assessment of his performance in 2013 in which he missed three games with injury, was suspended for another and had one interception — not the kind of return on investment expected from the third highest-paid ($9 million) player on the team.
"I haven't shown (the Bucs) the kind of player I am," Goldson said. "I wouldn't say that I have. Plus, I'm never satisfied with my play. The suspension, being hurt, not being able to make a lot of plays on the ball, I only made one interception. … I've got to show up."
Goldson, 29, is scheduled to make his first appearance of the preseason tonight against the Dolphins. Nothing has really changed about the Hawk, who signed a five-year, $41.25 million contract as a 49ers free agent a year ago. He's not the fastest member of the secondary. He's not the best tackler. He's not even the best cover man. It's his uncanny sense of field that makes him such a complete player.
"I've been very impressed with his football knowledge," coach Lovie Smith said.
Goldson was smart enough to navigate his first season with the Bucs, at times becoming a calming locker room voice of reason in the face of chaos. There was the iron-fisted ways of coach Greg Schiano, the messy release of quarterback Josh Freeman and the outbreak of MRSA, ending the careers of two players.
"The important thing was winning some games around here," Goldson said. "I wasn't trying to get caught up in all that other stuff. Schiano was a good guy, I feel. It just didn't work out. He did some good things and a lot of things guys disagreed with. But that's the business part."
As for Goldson, injuries and fines and finally a suspension were the drumbeat of his first season. He sustained a foot injury in the second game that affected his ability to plant and run and eventually required surgery, forcing him to miss offseason workouts.
"The foot started lingering around the second game," Goldson said. "By the third game, it was bothering me a lot. Just practicing on it, over time it got pretty bad. I couldn't put any pressure on it. I'm not making excuses. Playing defensive back, you have to plant and things like that. I had to practice in tennis shoes just to make it to games on Sundays."
Goldson sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee Oct. 20 at Atlanta. He returned three weeks later. He recorded eight tackles and had one pass defended in a win over Miami. But the next week, his helmet-to-helmet hit on Falcons receiver Roddy White cost Goldson a one-game suspension and a $264,705 game check.
It was the third time Goldson had received a fine last season for an illegal hit. His one-game suspension in Week 2 for his hit on Saints running back Darren Sproles was overturned on appeal but cost him a $100,000 fine. All told, Goldson lost a half million dollars for hits in the head and neck area to "defenseless" ballcarriers.
"I have to lower my target," Goldson said. "I don't want to be suspended. I don't want to lose any money and I definitely don't want to miss any games. I don't want to hurt the organization, along with it definitely hurt my bank account a little bit."
Goldson never agreed with the fines and the suspension. Weighed against the recent two-game penalty for the domestic battery charge against Ravens running back Ray Rice, Goldson said: "I got half as many (games) for playing football. Put it like that. Playing football. … We can still argue back and forth but I can't win with that. … The game is going a different direction than it did when Ronnie Lott was playing. You've just got to adjust."
As much as Goldson is willing to revisit all the distractions of 2013, he allows his mind to race to the coming season. He's excited about Smith, the Tampa 2 defense and pairing with Mark Barron to form one of the best safety tandems in the league.
Barron will be used more in the box to root out running plays, leaving Goldson at times to play the football in centerfield as a deep safety in the middle of the grass.
"Mark is a big-bodied guy with a lot of speed and he can hunt the ball down from the low hole and me with the range that I have playing in the middle of the field,'' Goldson said. "I can just play the ball.
"Football is fun. I'm starting to get my groove back, I'm starting to get my legs under me. Strength-wise, I'm starting to feel a little better. I'm getting stronger, but I've still got a lot to do."