It was a long three weeks for Brandon Underwood.
"It's good to be here," he said Wednesday.
Because the University of Cincinnati's school year stretched into mid-June, NCAA rules dictated that Underwood couldn't participate in the Packers' voluntary organized team activities. So, while young cornerbacks Tramon Williams, Will Blackmon and Pat Lee were honing their craft and getting acclimated to the new defensive scheme and terminology, Underwood's life as a Green Bay Packer was on hold.
Not only did the NCAA rules forbid Underwood from participating in OTAs, he wasn't even allowed to view DVDs of practice or study his playbook. Even though he wasn't enrolled in classes during the fourth quarter of school, about all Underwood could do to prepare for life in the NFL is stay in shape.
"I'm definitely behind, but it's a learning process," Underwood told Packer Report at his locker in the auxiliary locker room. "I get to watch great people in front of me and just keep learning every day."
Underwood, who signed a four-year contract on Tuesday with a $102,000 signing bonus, worked with the second-unit nickel and dime defenses during practice this week. At 6-foot-1 with above-average speed for the position and good hands, Underwood has plenty of potential. He slipped to the sixth round, however, because academic problems at Ohio State and his subsequent transfer to Cincinnati kept him from becoming a starter until his senior season.
Last year, he was a first-team all-Big East selection, though he mostly played safety with the Bearcats featuring a top-notch pair of cornerbacks in DeAngelo Smith and Mike Mickens, both of whom were drafted by Dallas. When Mickens went down with a knee injury, Underwood excelled during his few games at cornerback. He had interceptions in his final three collegiate games, including one in a victory over Pittsburgh that put the Bearcats on their way to winning the Big East and another in an Orange Bowl loss to Virginia Tech.
Underwood was selected in the sixth round by the Packers, and he said on Wednesday that he's only learning the cornerback position. He was a standout during the one rookie practice reporters were allowed to watch during the weekend following the draft.
"I'm very excited about the prospects of his development," director of college scouting John Dorsey told Packer Report last month. "I think we're lucky to get him and he sure flashed all of the skills necessary to play the cornerback position in the three-day rookie camp. He has confidence, he has athleticism, he has size."
That rookie camp was held May 1-3, or a month-and-a-half ago. By missing three weeks of OTAs, he's nine practices behind in an already-uphill battle to win a roster spot.
"It's all rolling back to me. It's starting to come second nature again," Underwood said. "When I'm on the sideline, I'm paying attention, I'm taking mental reps. I like to know the play and try to look at both positions to make sure that before the play starts, I see, ‘This corner's doing this and this corner's going to be doing that.' Hopefully when the minicamp comes around (next week), I'll be full go."
Even without the NCAA rules, Underwood would have been facing a challenge to earn a roster spot. The Packers, who added safety Anthony Smith in free agency, kept 10 defensive backs last season, including cornerbacks Al Harris, Charles Woodson, Williams, Blackmon, Lee and cornerback/safety Jarrett Bush. The first four on that list are locks to make the roster, Lee is a good bet and Bush brings versatility and a special-teams attitude.
That makes the practice squad a possibility, but in a league starved for guys who can cover, there's no guarantee he wouldn't be signed by another team. And with Woodson and Harris among the team's oldest players, the Packers are in dire need of young, talented cover men.
Dorsey likes the potential.
"Let's just see what happens here, and knock on wood, we may have something here," he said.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.