Underwood: ‘The future is very bright’

Tiquan Underwood has been encouraged by the progress of Pitt’s receivers in training camp, speaking to the media Friday about wide receivers, the passing game and more.

We hear you like to tie your shoes and maybe show off what you still have.
Man, I joke about that, but no more game for me. I leave that to the boys.

Do you ever show any movies from the period?
I will show it here and there. More on the blocking, just try to give them an example of, ‘Hey, we’ve put in a great effort in the running game,’ so I just show myself blocking a little bit. There was a time against Seattle, I had to block Kam Chancellor, and we all know he’s a big, physical guy, but when the run play is called, you have to go in and do the block.

That number 35 you have looks like it could be quite special.
Yes, Kenny Johnson, you’re doing well. He is doing fine. He’s been making a few plays during camp. But honestly, that group of first-year wide receivers that we have is very talented. Lamar Seymore, Kenny Johnson, Zion Fowler, Izzy Polk, it’s been great coaching those guys and helping them develop.

Do they also learn fast?
Yeah. They’ve been mentally attacking the playbook, sure, spending time. And also physically on the field, they’re developing, learning how we want to run routes here, because we’re a West Coast offense, we’re a little bit different and they’re coming out of high school, but they’ve been handling it well. I’ll say that. There’s still a long way to go, but we’re going to keep pushing those guys, throwing them into the fire and making them learn, because experience is the best teacher.

We’ve heard a lot about how the deep passing game is opening up for you in practice. What has helped on your part as coordinator of the passing game to see that evolution from what they were last year?
I mean, anytime you can be on offense for a second year, the guys will feel comfortable and I feel like the older ones have done a great job helping the younger ones, number one, and then with Phil coming over, obviously. our OC, Trainer Cig, he and Phil were in BC together, so there’s some comfort there. The guys just did a great job making plays on the field, and we’ve got to keep doing that.

Is there anyone who has broken away in terms of the third receiver position right now?
Right now, we’re still figuring it out. It is still early in the camp. A great day tomorrow, being the scrimmage. So I like to evaluate guys in game situations. Practice is great, but when you’re in the scrimmage, with no coaches on the field, just the players, you can see, who really knows what they’re doing and who can consistently do their job?

What does Jake McConnachie look like in this camp?
Man, I love Jake. She had a tremendous spring and then took her to fall camp and has been very consistent. I love training the child. He will give you 100% effort all the time. He is really developed; From the day I got here until now, you can really see the difference in his game.

I was hanging out with wide receiver drills yesterday and I was wondering, where do you get your energy?
Honestly, man, I love this job. I think about it, we’re so blessed and lucky to be coaching these young guys and just helping them grow as people, whether it’s as a soccer player on the field or as a person off the field. So I try to attack every day because I love what I’m doing.

Have you always been an extrovert?
Yes. Honestly, I would say in high school, yes. The first few years, I was a bit to myself. But I came out of my shell and now I’m just a people person. I like to make people feel good, I like to talk to people and most importantly, how do you make people feel? I just try to make people, when they talk to me, just have a smile and leave with positive energy.

Do you see your players respond to that?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And what Coach Cignetti is teaching me and Coach Duzz is teaching me, there are times to love them and there are times to be hard on them. I’m working on it as a coach. I’m still a young coach who learns as I go, and my guys love the positive reinforcement, but there are also times when I have to put the hammer down. So it’s been good. I try to keep a good balance.

With this room of young receivers, do you see them coming out of their shell after a couple weeks of camp? Do you feel like these guys are comfortable joking around and being part of the team?
Absolutely. Because when you’re new and you’re the new guy, you’re just trying to show what you can do, like you’re quiet. But in the boardroom, I can definitely see these guys opening up more, getting more comfortable in the building, so it’s good to see.

What has Daejon brought to your room and what are you seeing of him here on the field?
Underwood: Dae Dae, when you look at him, first thing, like him and Bub physically, man, they’re grown men. He brings an edge to the room without a doubt, a certain kind of toughness. And just teaching the youngsters what it takes to play at this level. You go to the University of Florida, you go there for a reason. That’s SEC football in a big way, so to bring his experiences here and share it with the guys, I think it’s been tremendous.

Frank told us that Bub has been training more for you guys on the field and helping out there. How have you seen him mentally grow as a leader and what he can do for you now?
No doubt. Mentally, a second year on offense, Bub has taken off. He has been doing very well, not a lot of mental errors at all. He and Konata Mumpfield have definitely taken on more of a leadership role with the departure of Jared Wayne, who was our leader last year, and it’s been great to see Bub and Konata talk to the guys more, whether it’s on the soccer field or when we brought it up after practice, just talking to the guys. I think it will be a good omen for our group.

What does Bub’s energy bring to that whole room?
First of all, her smile is contagious. When he smiles, man, he brings positive energy all the time. For me, Bub never has a bad day. And what I like most about him is that he loves to compete. It doesn’t matter what period it is, it doesn’t matter if it’s first period, last period, two minutes, run lockout – he loves to compete and we need him in our room for sure.

He recruited a larger class of receivers into this group. After watching them in camp for three weeks, are you even more confident about what the future looks like for that position group?
OMG, absolutely. We brought four in this class, and what I like about all four is that they’re all different, so they can all bring something different to the table. I feel like that will give them a cache to get into the field, because they all have different attributes. But the future is very bright; we just have to keep learning the playbook, continue to train these guys hard and develop them on the field, and their natural ability and talent will speak for itself, for sure.

Would you have been able to make it in the NFL without the positive energy you display?
That’s a great question. I would say no, because in the NFL, I’m trying to teach these guys, you have to control what you can control, you have to see the positive even in the bad, because at that level, it’s a business, everyone knows that. A guy might get drafted early, I was a seventh-round pick myself, so you might not get as many opportunities as a first-round pick. So only control what you can control, stay positive and continue to prepare to act and let the chips land where they may.

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