Cutdown day in the NFL is an uncomfortable one for many players, obviously. That said, Tiquan Underwood is already enjoying this one more than he did the one from a year ago.
Like all 75 remaining players on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' preseason roster, Underwood will know by late Friday evening if he is still a part of the team after the league-mandated reduction to 53. The team's roster moves are due to the NFL office by 9:00 p.m. ET, and the assembled cuts from around the league will be distributed to all the teams – and to the public – in the hours that follow. Players who aren't contacted by the team before 9:00 p.m. can relax.
Underwood says he actually plans to do that all day, regardless of the importance of the date.
"I'm just going to relax," he said on Thursday, a day before the cuts and a day after he led the team with six catches for 82 yards in the preseason finale at Washington. "It's an off day for us, which is always relaxing. I'll talk to my family, see what they're doing back home, and just relax and see what happens."
Last summer was a much more tumultuous time for Underwood. After two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars he was released on August 26, then picked up quickly by New England and given a shot to perform in the Patriots' season finale. Even though he led the team that day with four catches for 52 yards, it wasn't enough to immediately earn him a spot with the team. He would be released again and not re-signed by the Patriots until midseason.
That's why Underwood expects to feel some pretty strong emotions if he learns on Friday that he made the opening-day roster this time around.
"Being out of football for those first two months was very tough and I'll never take it for granted again," he said. "I'll probably have a few tears, to be honest, because you put so much into it and for it to pay off would be gratifying."
New England let Underwood go again in May and he immediately signed with the Buccaneers, reuniting him with his college head coach, Greg Schiano. He spent the next four months trying to make sure he could rest easy on this particular day, comfortable in the belief that he had done everything he could.
"I think it went pretty well," said Underwood. "I put a lot into this before training camp and it paid off for me. I tried to just gain the trust of the coaches and I just left it all out on the field. Now it's time for the coaches to make a decision. When I was a younger player I used to worry and worry. But now I'm very calm. I put a lot of work into it, and you've got to just worry about what you can control. I can't control their decision, and I can just control my play. That's what I try to do."
Schiano said on Thursday that the decision to be made at the wide receiver position were likely to be among the most difficult, that the competition at that spot had been particularly fierce. To Underwood, that means that he and his fellow wideouts did their jobs.
"We have a talented group, a bunch of young guys along with Vincent Jackson, who's a great player and has been doing it for awhile now," he said. "As a player, that's all you want to do: Go out there, play well and make it difficult for the coaches. That's what it's all about. It was a great competition and we'll see what happens."