A Bump in the Road but not a Dead End
Last Updated on Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00 Written by Mike Davidsen Thursday, 10 June 2010 12:16
It was about two weeks ago that Mike McCarthy labeled Brandon Underwood as one of the most improved players from last season. The comment naturally generated some excitement throughout Packer Nation with fans well aware of the lack of quality depth at the Packers’ cornerback position. I had high hopes of what this might mean for the Packers secondary, after seeing the type of transition tight end Jermichael Finley made last offseason.
A Big Step Backward
Unfortunately for the entire Packers organization, Underwood erased a great deal of his progress when he was accused of sexual assault in Lake Delton, Wisconsin this past weekend, while in the area for a charity golf tournament. Underwood and six teammates stayed in nearby cabin that night, which is where Underwood ran into trouble with the two women claiming they were sexually assaulted. The accusation proved twice as detrimental to Underwood as his six teammates were brought into the local prison and investigated by police, but ultimately cleared.
Underwood will go down as the second Packer this offseason to pull a bonehead move with something on the line in the football world. While Underwood will be likely be vindicated (according to his attorney), the incident put a major dent in his path to becoming the fourth cornerback in Dom Capers’ defense. Perhaps last Friday’s incident shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since Underwood hasn’t exactly meshed well with the team thus far in his career. Players who wished to remain anonymous claimed that Underwood had been a problem since joining the Packers two Aprils ago.
As Underwood returned to Offseason Training Activities today, he began the long process of regaining ground he lost this past weekend. He started off by apologizing to his teammates, especially the ones whose names had unjustly been tied to his personal mistake. The apology was well-received by teammates such as Clay Matthews, but there is no still question that Underwood spit into the wind with this mishap. But am I ready to give up on this youngster with monster potential? Not just yet.
Potential and Maturity
I recently spoke strongly against Johnny Jolly’s long-term stay in Green Bay, with his continued off-the-field issues and iffy commitment to football. I feel much differently about Underwood, who I realize still sits at the wrong end of the high-character spectrum. Despite his borderline behavior thus far, I still view Underwood as what Jermichael Finley was like a year ago, just needing to mature a bit more. I also think Underwood’s potential is not far off from what Finley’s was when he was going through his first offseason as a Packer.
In fact, potential has been Underwood’s middle name ever since he was an Ohio State Buckeye only a few years back. He transferred to the University of Cincinnati after turning in poor grades at Ohio State. He played well enough as a Bearcat for Ted Thompson to recognize Underwood’s strong upside and take him in the sixth round of the 2009 draft. He started off with the type of season that you’d probably expect from a rookie sixth-round pick, with minimal impact at his natural position and some contributions on special teams. Just for the record, that’s how Finley spent his rookie season.
To me, it seems like someone just needs to get Underwood in football mode. He recently explained how veterans Charles Woodson and Al Harris had been teaching him to become more of a professional. Though it’s apparent that their teachings were no where to be found in Underwood’s brain last Friday, he still has the benefit of learning more from them for at least another training camp and regular season. It could be that Underwood’s mistake will serve as a source of motivation to jump-start his career in Green Bay. It’s worth noting that Finley made some similar mistakes during his first two years as a Packer (though not as severe) but luckily got away with most of them.
All Not Lost for Brandon Underwood
Underwood is lucky in that the opportunity to grab that fourth cornerback spot is still within close reach. The Packers’ top three cornerbacks are all absent from the OTA’s, all for various reasons. That makes Underwood a starter on defense, competing primarily with Pat Lee, Jarrett Bush and Josh Bell – not what one would consider the fiercest of competition. Ted Thompson opted to pass on a cornerback in the draft, showing confidence in Underwood’s ability at the cornerback position and at the same time, reducing his competition for one of the remaining cornerback spots on the roster.
A month or two ago, I predicted that Brandon Underwood would be one of the most improved players of last year’s rookie class. My prediction wasn’t looking bad until just recently. If you’re McCarthy or Thompson, I think you give this guy a chance after seeing the type of turnaround Jermichael Finley made from year one to year two. It could be that Underwood never meets his potential - but it’s certainly worth a shot given the Packers’ other options at backup cornerback.
The Packers will need another cornerback to pair with Tramon Williams in a couple of years and might look to Underwood to fill that role, depending on his development over the next year or two. Though it would be rare to see in back-to-back years, Brandon Underwood may just follow the same path Jermichael Finley did going into his second year as a pro.