Underwood was making a strong bid to play on a regular basis, and possibly start, in Green Bay's secondary last season when he tore ligaments in his right knee in the preseason opener at San Diego. Poof! His season went up in smoke when he was placed on injured reserve.
Underwood proceeded to spend many long hours rehabbing his knee and stand along the sideline watching his teammates, taking those dreaded mental reps in practice and during games.
"Watching the games is the tough part," Underwood said. "You want to be out there with your teammates. You feel like you can help and do something. That's the biggest pain you get from an injury like that."
Nothing changed this past weekend when team doctors ordered him to sit out of the mandatory minicamp practices, though, he says he is 100 percent ready to play.
"They said I could practice, but they don't want to rush it," Underwood said. "Whenever they tell me, I'm ready to go."
That may not be until late July, when training camp begins. Underwood has stayed in Green Bay during the off-season, participating in the team's off-season workout program. He says that he has gotten stronger in the program and has added a few pounds of muscle to his compact 5-foot-10, 203-pound frame. He also has been running and doing other exercises to strengthen his surgically repaired knee.
Underwood, selected in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL draft by Green Bay, will have to be in tip-top shape to make the 53-man roster this season. The competition for a spot at safety will be perhaps the most intense of all the positions on the team. The Packers selected Virginia Tech safety Aaron Rouse in the third round of the recent NFL draft, and also have retained second-year pros Tyrone Culver, Charlie Peprah and Atari Bigby. All three played on special teams and in passing defenses last year for the Packers.
Underwood, who was playing well in training camp until the time of his injury last year, said he was not surprised when the Packers selected Rouse in the draft.
"You've got to expect that," Underwood said. "He's a great safety, a big guy. You've got to be willing to compete and give it all you have. That's just part of the game. They're always going to get somebody new, younger. It's just part of the game. You just have to go out there and play hard."
Underwood says that he will continue his preparation for the upcoming season in Green Bay and do as much as he is allowed to do in the Organized Team Activities practices that begin on May 31. When training camp begins on July 27, he already knows what he will have to show the coaching staff.
"Show them that I'm consistent, that I can do it and make plays on defense from the back end," he said. "Show them that I can play. I can do special teams, I can start, I can do whatever they want me to do."
In other words, Underwood will make the staff's decision on who to keep at safety a tough one.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.