Remember Brandon Underwood?
During the summer, the Green Bay Packers were high on Underwood. Coach Mike McCarthy said he was the player who made the biggest second-year jump. Underwood came into training camp as the Packers nickel cornerback.
Underwood played well during practice, but that didn’t carry over to the preseason games. Then he got hurt in the team’s third preseason game. Around the same time, rookie Sam Shields passed him on the depth chart.
When Underwood finally returned from his shoulder injury he was nowhere to be found. When Shields went down to injury earlier this season, the Packers chose to play Pat Lee in nickel and Jarrett Bush in their dime defense. Obviously, Underwood had fallen pretty far, pretty fast.
Last week, the Packers revealed Underwood had been moved to safety. While the coaches said the move was because of depth issues — both Atari Bigby and Anthony Smith have been banged up — it’s pretty clear the Packers aren’t enthralled with Underwood’s play at cornerback, despite what’s being said.
“I still feel good about Brandon and his future and what he can do for us,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “He’s played safety before, (in college) at Cincinnati. He’s a smart guy, a good athlete and he’s got versatility to him. He just has to keep working. I think he can handle playing a couple of positions, so I think he has value that way. You look across the board, if you’re given an opportunity, you’ve got to take advantage of it. Who knows when he’s going to have that opportunity?”
Everyone on the coaching staff seems quick to trumpet Underwood’s ability and intelligence, but others have questioned his maturity and attitude.
There were warning signs in college. Underwood transferred to Cincinnati after he was kicked off the team at Ohio State after several academic violations. Then came the sexual assault allegations this past summer, which still haven’t been completely resolved.
Then there’s cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, who seemed to suggest Underwood isn’t working hard enough.
“He just needs to continue to grow and detail his work and focus,” Whitt said. “He’s a very, very smart guy. He might have the highest Wonderlic score (28) on the defense. Maybe I’ve got to do a better job of getting to him. I pride myself on being able to coach anybody, and I haven’t done as good a job with him, and that falls back on me. I’ve got to do a better job reaching him.”
Whatever the problem, this has become a lost season for Underwood, who’s appeared in only eight games and recorded six tackles.
If he doesn’t work harder this offseason, this could well be his last in Green Bay.