The Jaguars went into the spring practice season hoping a wide receiver would emerge as another prospective playmaker. In recent practices, as the Jaguars head toward the conclusion of the OTA season, Tiquan Underwood is that emerging receiver.
"We really need a speed receiver to emerge, someone who doesn't just stretch a defense, but someone who can be a playmaker down the field. He's shown in these OTAs he can. (Monday), he made a tremendous adjustment on a deep ball," General Manager Gene Smith said of Underwood following Tuesday's practice, another positive outing for the second-year man from Rutgers.
Underwood made a gliding grab of a David Garrard touchdown pass, but it was Underwood's post-play body language that spoke the loudest. A naturally timid personality, Underwood skipped back to the huddle, high-fiving teammates as he delighted in his touchdown.
Translation? The kid's coming out of his shell and it's most apparent.
Underwood would seem to be the leading candidate for the number four wide receiver position. If he can hold on or strengthen that position over the remaining four OTA practices, Underwood will go into training camp as a roster favorite.
"I feel more relaxed, more confident in the offense," Underwood said. "First things first. I want to get to 185 pounds. Then I want to find a role on this team. I want to help this team win."
Underwood is a slender 180 on a 6-1 frame. Speed is his game but he knows he needs to add muscle to be able to hold up over the middle against NFL defenses. As a 173-pound rookie last year, he needed a year to grow into his body and the game.
"I've gained a little weight. I'm not where I want to be but I'm working hard with coach Richesson," Underwood said, referring to strength coach Luke Richesson and his staff.
Another part of his game that needs beefing up is consistency at catching the ball. Underwood lasted to the final round of the 2009 draft largely because he had a reputation as a body-catcher who experienced bouts of the dropsies.
"To me, he was more of a body-catcher coming out of college. Hard work enabled him to have confidence to consistently catch the ball away from his body," Smith said.
Such catches were on display in the first two practices of this week. Underwood, all of a sudden, is showing signs of being a polished receiver.
"He's fast and quick. He's done a good job in OTAs," Smith said.
Cornerback Derek Cox provided one of the highlights of Monday's practice when he cut underneath Underwood to make an impressive interception of a Garrard pass. Defense carried the day. Special teams struggled early in practice, as Josh Scobee missed right on a couple of field goal attempts.