Manuel, who signed a five-year, $10 million free agent contract with the Packers in March, has been unable to practice in training camp after straining his right calf while working out at his home in Miami a few weeks prior to training camp. After the Packers released Roman prior to the first practice of camp, the door swung wide open for Underwood, Green Bay's first of two fourth-round picks in 2005, to get significant reps with the first-team defense.
Underwood is soaking up the valuable time, and for the most part, looking pretty good in the process.
"I think so," said head coach Mike McCarthy. "I thought he showed up that last two practices. All young guys … it's a great opportunity. That's why we went the direction we did at the safety position. The young guys, we want to get a good look at them, and we're excited about their potential."
Prior to Roman's release, Underwood would have been in a fight with Tyrone Culver, the team's second of two sixth-round draft picks this year, to make the 53-man roster. As it stands, Underwood has far out-performed Culver in camp, showing improvement in speed and the ability to make plays.
Underwood says the difference from his rookie season to this year has been significant in terms of confidence. It also has helped that he participated in the team's off-season workout program, where he added about six pounds of muscle to his 200-pound frame. His improved quickness also is very evident.
"It's good for me," Manuel said of the extra playing time. "It gives me the opportunity to show what I can do with the ones and just show the coaches that I can run the defense at the ones level. I think it's big for me."
At this point in camp, it would be difficult to imagine the Packers parting ways with Manuel. He led the team in special teams tackles last season with 23. He finished with 14 tackles and one forced fumble while playing in the dime defense, which likely will be his role again when Manuel returns from his injury. But his experience in camp will only help him in that role and bolster an already impressive defensive backfield.
Nick Collins and Manuel are locks to start at the safety positions. Charles Woodson and Al Harris will start at cornerback. The top backs off the bench in the nickel and dime defenses probably will be up for grabs between cornerbacks Ahmad Carroll, Jason Horton and Mike Hawkins, and Underwood.
"It's a different world for me," Manuel said. "Of course you've got Charles (Woodson), Al (Harris) and Nick (Collins) making it a lot easier, but I think I've stepped it up big time from last year."