Watch: Tiquan Underwood on the competitiveness of the Bucs-Patriots joint practices
Tiquan Underwood caught one pass inside Gillette Stadium during his time with the New England Patriots in 2011. He hauled in at least five times that many on Monday just outside Gillette, and if he keeps up that sort of production for the rest of the week, he could find himself once again catching passes inside the Patriots' Sunday home during the regular season…for at least one weekend.
Underwood is working hard to secure a role this year in the passing game for Tampa Bay, not New England, after spending much of last season as the Buccaneers' third receiver. He just happens to be back in his 2011 stamping grounds with the rest of his Tampa teammates, as the Bucs and Patriots are engaged in three days of joint practices before Friday night's preseason matchup at Gillette Stadium. The Buccaneers will also be returning to Foxboro in Week Three of the regular season for a much more meaningful game, and by that point Underwood may have emerged as the team's primary third receiver again.
It won't be easy, or uncontested. Kevin Ogletree, who came over from Dallas as a free agent this past spring, was the first receiver into the game after the two starters in last Thursday's preseason opener against Baltimore, and he also led all players in that game with five catches for 85 yards. Others, including Chris Owusu and David Douglas, are in the competition as well. All of the combatants for the job – and, potentially, a fourth, fifth and sixth spot in the receiving corps – know that they have about three more weeks to find a way to stand out.
"In this league, you've got to take advantage of your opportunities, and fortunately I got an opportunity today," said Underwood, who reintroduced himself to some of his old teammates with a very strong day on the practice field. "I just tried to go out there and be a guy that the coaches and the quarterback could count on.
"It's very competitive out there, especially for me. I've obviously played here before and I have friends on that team. But going against another team really amps it up. You get tired of going against the same guys day-in and day-out, so it just gives you a new look."
Both teams used the majority of Monday's practice – at least the full-team periods – to run their first-stringers against each other. That could have meant a less busy day for Underwood, but Ogletree is currently nursing a slight ankle sprain and wasn't in the mix on Monday. Underwood stepped up in a noticeable way and now he just wants to keep that momentum going, even if he doesn't yet know how many snaps he will get in Friday night's game.
"I'm not sure, but hopefully I do [get opportunities] and I'm going to just try to take advantage of them, starting with these three practices and then on to Friday and the game," he said. "All the games are important. One isn't more important than the next. But as a third receiver you've got to be a guy the quarterback can count on, especially on third down. When I get in there, I've got to know what I'm doing and just try to be sure-handed out there."
It may be that this week's conditions are just perfectly suited to bring the most out of Underwood. Not only does he have a greater opportunity due to Ogletree's injury, but he has familiar faces on the other side of the line of scrimmage that both drive his competitive spirit and remind him how he came to this point in his career.
"You're battling, and it brings out the competitive nature in guys," said Underwood, who played two seasons for the Jacksonville Jaguars before joining the Patriots. "It was a pleasure playing for that organization, playing for Coach Belichick. I'm just grateful for the opportunity, and it helped me a lot as a player and as a person. It showed me how to be a pro. Coming from Jacksonville to New England, it showed me what winning was about, showed me what hard work can get you. I took that with me down to Tampa and I really appreciate it."