"I think Brandon Underwood would definitely be a candidate for most improved player from Year 1 to Year 2 so far from what I've seen," coach Mike McCarthy said when asked by Packer Report last week. "I think he's really matured in the weight room. He looks very good right now. I know we're only practicing in shorts and helmets, but I think Brandon Underwood is off to an outstanding spring so far. I've been very pleased with what he has shown on film."
As a rookie sixth-round pick, Underwood played in 11 regular-season games and the wild-card playoff loss at Arizona. He tallied five tackles and a pass defensed in the regular season along with nine tackles on special teams. In the playoff game, he recovered an onside kick that continued the Packers' comeback.
All in all, it was a rather undistinguished rookie season, but what do you expect from a sixth-round pick who was the 30th cornerback selected? Especially considering that, because class was still in session at Cincinnati, Underwood was forced to skip everything between the rookie camp and the final week of organized team activities.
"It put me way behind," Underwood said last week. "When I got here, they were already through the whole playbook. You get on the field for the reps you're supposed to get, and it's like you don't know how to exactly play the technique that's being asked of you because you're still used to your college system. I had no interaction with the coaches last year until I got here."
Still, at 6-foot-1 with a nose for the ball and impressive athletic ability, the Packers needed Underwood to step up to help an injury-ravaged secondary. Underwood wasn't up to the task.
So far this spring, Underwood seems to be a different player.
"It's not even close. It's not even close. It's night and day," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said recently when asked about Underwood's growth. "The bases and his stance, his understanding, he has a chance to be a good player. I'm very pleased with him. Everybody knows that I was disappointed in him at some points last year. He has turned totally around."
Underwood said his rookie year went "according to plan" in that he made his mark on special teams. Thrust into action on defense down the stretch — especially the playoff loss at Arizona, when he faced Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin — was a great measuring stick, he said.
"When you step on that field, be ready. You have to be ready," Underwood told Packer Report. "It's going to be to the end, especially being in the playoffs. In the playoffs, it's going to go down to the wire. The atmosphere — everybody says that preseason, guys are moving at a different motor because guys are trying to make the team. When you get to the season, it's at a different speed. When you get to the playoffs, it's like it's at hyper-speeds. It was a great chance to be out there and learn that."
Underwood has been a staple in the offseason program. While he said he weighs the same 191 pounds as last year, he said he felt stronger and more explosive than ever after focusing on "football training" rather than Scouting Combine training.
The universal confidence that Underwood was ready to step up and contribute came about 72 hours before whatever transpired in the Wisconsin Dells area. The Sauk County district attorney is expected to get the case on Tuesday, but Lake Delton Police Chief Thomas Dorner confirmed to Packer Report that his office would offer no recommendations regarding charges because there's so much "contradictory" information between Underwood and the suspects.
Last week, Underwood didn't sound like the type of guy who would throw away his professional career with a long night in a strange town.
"You know what? I feel like I've really buckled down since we started back in March," Underwood said. "Every time I talk to one of the older guys like Al (Harris) or Charles (Woodson), it was like I was always learning about being a professional. That's one thing that they really taught me is how to be a professional. This is my job, and I'm taking my job to a whole other level. It's great to hear that (what McCarthy said) and it makes me feel good, but you can't get satisfied with that because you have to keep pushing."
And out of trouble.
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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 email@example.com, 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.