Underwood Focused On Making Final Impression


Thursday night's preseason finale at Tennessee will be the final audition for those Packers who are making the push to land a spot on Green Bay's final roster, and one of the younger players who figures to get a significant amount of playing time will be rookie cornerback Brandon Underwood.

The Packers will be relatively thin at cornerback against the Titans, with veteran starters Charles Woodson and Al Harris getting the night off. Both players have sat out each of the preseason finales since Head Coach Mike McCarthy took over in 2006.

Combine that with the fact that cornerback Will Blackmon has been ruled out with a quad injury and another cornerback, Pat Lee, is expected to suit up for the first time this preseason after battling a back injury, and Underwood could find himself getting a lot of reps in Tennessee.

That work could come against the Titans' front-line players as well, since Tennessee is known for playing its starters into the second half in the last preseason game. The Titans will be playing their fifth preseason game and open the regular season a week later in Pittsburgh, so just how much time their starters will be on the field isn't known.

"It's a great opportunity for young guys to get out there and have the final audition," Underwood said. "It's going to give the coaches a great chance to be able to evaluate everybody because a lot of us young guys are going to get a lot of good looks."

Underwood, who was selected by the Packers with the second of their two sixth-round picks in this year's draft, had a tough start to his career in Green Bay, through no fault of his own. An NFL rule prohibits players from practicing with the team until their school year is complete, and since the University of Cincinnati's spring semester didn't wrap up until mid-June, Underwood missed the first three weeks of OTAs.

"It was frustrating and I felt like I couldn't play at the speed I wanted to be at early on because I was still second-guessing myself," Underwood said. "Now that everything is becoming second nature to me, I can play faster without really having to think.

"It was probably about the second week of training camp that everything started really clicking. I took great notes from everything I learned when I first came for rookie camp and OTAs, and I just kept hammering that in back home and I was able to pick it up."

Through the first three preseason games, Underwood has posted 11 tackles, good for fourth on the team and first among rookies, as well as two passes defensed, which ties him for second on the Packers.

Both of his pass deflections came last Friday at Arizona, with another breakup called back. On a 3rd-and-14 early in the third quarter, quarterback Matt Leinart threw to wide receiver Lance Long about 20 yards down the field, and Underwood make a jarring hit to break up the pass. But Underwood was flagged for a personal foul because the hit was helmet-to-helmet.

"It was the proper read," secondary-cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. said. "The call was for that route, and I would like for him to go get the ball and intercept it, but he made an impactful hit.

"He just can't go for the head. It was good to see him play it the correct way and try to be physical at the point of contact. I was excited about that."

The 6-foot-1, 191-pound Underwood was known more for his speed and long arms coming out of Cincinnati, where he played both cornerback and safety in his one season after beginning his career at Ohio State. While the interceptions haven't been there yet in the games or practice, the big hit on Long showed his ability to be in the right position and play with a physical nature.

"He's been real physical, which I didn't think he was going to be," Whitt said. "He's very coachable, long arms, good speed. The only negative right now is he's not getting the ball. But I've been pleased with him. He's doing a better job in the classroom, a better job understanding what the defense is asking. He's just a young guy that has to keep coming."

{sportsad300}While it may seem a bit unusual, Whitt said Underwood has been more nervous in training-camp practices than he has been in the games, and that his play has been better in the games as well.

"I'm on his butt a lot on the practice field," Whitt said. "On game day, I don't say anything. It's about encouraging and getting him to play, so he doesn't have to worry about listening to me. All he has to do is go out there and play.

"We show him so many different looks in practice that the games should be easier for him. He goes out there and he is relaxed and he plays better in the games."

Although practices have proved to be challenging for Underwood, they are also where he tries to glean as much as he can from all of the experience the Packers' cornerbacks group possesses.

"A lot of the older guys have been pushing me, especially Al Harris, just to make sure that I know that every time I am on the field and every practice rep I take is equally important as anything I do," Underwood said. "He has instilled in me since I got here that everything I do needs to be perfect.

"I'm very blessed. I get to see Charles and Al make plays every day. They're future Hall of Famers as far as I am concerned, so it's been an honor to watch them and Tramon (Williams), guys like P-Lee (Pat Lee), Black (Blackmon). Watching everybody's different playing styles, it's just been a great thing to be able to experience that."

With an established trio of cornerbacks in Woodson, Harris, and Williams, Underwood is well aware that if he does earn a spot on the final roster, he'll be called on to contribute in other ways.

"Special teams are going to be huge for me," Underwood said. "I can't even begin to describe how big it is going to be. With the three great corners we have, any opportunity you get, or whatever they ask you to do, it's as important as anything else. You can be a Pro Bowler with special teams if you are good enough, so I just look at it as an opportunity to showcase everything I can do.

"I love special teams because it's that one play where guys on offense and defense come together. The person to my right might be an offensive player, but we have one goal in common, and that's that the rep we are taking is the most important play at the time."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content


Cast your vote for the Pro Bowl Games!

Help send your favorite Packers players to the 2024 Pro Bowl Games!