TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The NFL can be a cruel business for players on the fringes of a roster, and nobody knows it better than Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Tiquan Underwood.
Underwood spent most of the 2011 season and postseason — including Super Bowl week — with the New England Patriots, but coach Bill Belichick released him the night before the big game.
“It was tough,” Underwood recalled Monday, “but coach Belichick makes all his roster decisions on Saturday whether it’s Week 1 or the day before the Super Bowl. It doesn’t matter.”
Underwood was replaced on the roster by defensive tackle Alex Silvestro, who didn’t play in the Patriots’ 21-17 loss to the New York Giants.
“(Belichick) had to make a decision and I was one of the latter guys on the depth chart, so it’s part of the business,” Underwood explained. “He’s going to make the best decision for his team for that game, and he did that.”
As if to make it a little worse, the Patriots re-signed him two days after the Super Bowl, then released him again three months later.
The 25-year-old signed with the Bucs (No. 26 in the AP Pro32) in May, and so far he is making the most of it. The 6-foot-1, 187-pounder has been one of the most impressive receivers in the training camp. He caught three passes in Friday night’s preseason opener at Miami, including a 44-yard catch in double coverage to set up a touchdown.
“He’s trying to make the club. I’m not sure where he fits in yet,” said coach Greg Schiano. “He did have a good game the other night. I think consistency is going to be the key. He works hard and he understands what we want in this program, so if he can be consistent, he’s got a good chance.”
One thing Underwood understands is Schiano, his head coach at Rutgers from 2005-08. But Underwood laughed at the suggestion that his history with Schiano might give him an edge.
“You know how this league is,” he said. “At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’ve played for a guy or not. In this league it’s about doing your job, making plays and getting judged on the field.”
It was a lesson he learned in New England, even if his experience there ended in disappointment.
“Going up there changed my career,” he said. “The way they run their organization, I learned how to be a professional. I learned how to actually work on my craft. When you’re there with Wes Welker every day, Deion Branch, the receivers, Tom (Brady) always being one of the first ones in the meeting room. Watching those guys work, it’s no secret why they’re so successful. They practice and work so hard, and I just try to take that and bring it wherever I go.”
While Underwood was with the Patriots, the Bucs were losing their final 10 games. But under Schiano, he sees some similarities. The training camps are “very grueling, very hard,” he said.
“Both coaches demand damned-near perfection; they want you to give your all every day. Training camp is about beating your body up and coming close together as a team so when times get rough during the season, you stick together and don’t unravel.”
NOTES: Monday’s practice session was cut short about 20 minutes by lightning. … LT Donald Penn, who has yet to practice because of a strained left calf, won’t be hurried. “Circumstances won’t ever dictate behavior around here,” Schiano said. … The Bucs will play Tennessee in their preseason home opener Friday night.