Forgot about this, definitely a good route to take with Cunningham.

Here’s something to consider when it comes to the Patriots’ final 53-man roster: One of their injured players could initially make the team, then be placed on the NFL’s short-term injured reserve list the next day to open a spot for another player. Last year, the Patriots used the designation on tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, which didn’t pan out. A top candidate this year figures to be defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. He doesn’t appear close to a return at this time, so the Patriots look primed to have either second-year man Justin Francis or five-year veteran Marcus Benard fill his role as a third-down interior sub rusher.

Good analysis from Jeff Howe on Jermaine Cunningham and the use of him as an interior rusher.

There’s a logic to getting Cunningham on the field in the untraditional fashion. He’s a speed rusher with a decent amount of power, but his quickness can throw off interior offensive linemen who are used to blocking much bigger and slower but stronger players.

This is Cunningham’s year. He has the speed and now it appears he has the strength to deal with tackles on a regular basis. His overtime sack with Ninkovich was just a matter of who got to the quarterback first. In this instance, it was Cunningham. He was providing pressure all game and has shown that he’s tough to handle for opposing tackles. He’s certainly come a long way from last season’s healthy nine-game appearance in which he recorded a total of one tackle.

Jermaine Cunningham, Patriots linebacker: New England head coach Bill Belichick complimented Cunningham in training camp for being one of the team’s most improved players. The 2010 second-round pick has often shown flashes of brilliance, and that includes his two-sack performance in Wednesday’s preseason finale against the New York Giants. Cunningham is a perfect example of taking a productive offseason and turning into a good training camp and preseason. Now, the Patriots hope Cunningham takes his momentum into the regular season when the games matter.
Jermaine Cunningham making a statement for his place on the 53-man roster.
(via Patriots vs. Giants - 8/29/2012)

Jermaine Cunningham making a statement for his place on the 53-man roster.

(via Patriots vs. Giants - 8/29/2012)

Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham earned playing time in a sub defense package as an interior rusher, aligning alongside Vince Wilfork. It’s an opportunity for Cunningham to continue to increase his role within this defense, and for the Patriots’ sake, it’s an opportunity to insert a unique skill into their sub package, and a move that could especially pay off against mobile quarterbacks. With Jake Locker slated as the first opposing starting quarterback, the Patriots will face a task of an athletic player who can break the pocket and do damage. Having Cunningham on the field adds a player who can pursue the quarterback not only as he stands in the pocket, but also if he scrambles out of it.


This is one of the more interesting personnel developments this year. Does Cunningham really have potential inside? Or is it a move of necessity given the absence of Myron Pryor and how Fanene didn’t work out? We’ll see how Cunningham produces inside, but the lack of a “get-up-the-field” d-tackle at the top end of the depth chart is noticeable.

Jermaine Cunningham took a few snaps lined up between the guard and center. That’s a new position for him. It’s possible the Patriots could employ him there in certain pass-rush packages.

Hitting again on the theme of the whole off-season… finding a way to get pressure up the middle by any means necessary.

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Andy thinks this could be Cunningham’s last shot to make the team. Personally I’m not so sure, after all look at how long Ron Brace has managed to hang around. You want to talk make or break years, Brace has had one the last two seasons.

Cunningham did have some factors working against him in year two after a promising rookie season. There was no off-season and a defensive scheme shift that had him going from outside linebacker back to defensive left end. The Pats gave him a look at 4-3 strong-side linebacker as well. Either way they liked Rob Ninkovich more. Here’s what BB had to say during the season:

"I think one of the things that Jermaine has had to work through is the time he missed in training camp and the preseason," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who noted Cunningham also had to deal with the transition from playing outside linebacker in last year’s 3-4 scheme, to being a defensive end in New England’s 4-3 base defense this season.

"This year we transitioned to a little bit more multiple defensive front, and that’s been an adjustment for him. Missing that time didn’t help him any. He’s worked hard and done a good job to get back on the field — getting rehab and getting back out there. I think he’s improving. He’s gotten a little better each week. He’s definitely on the upswing here. He’s a guy that we hop will be able to contribute for us."

Whether it was due to a linger injury, trouble adjusting to a new position, or just a sophomore slump there’s no question there will be a spotlight on Cunningham in camp.

But before we dismiss him to a make or break summer, let’s remember how long Belichick has liked Cunningham:

According to Meyer, landing Cunningham represented the culmination of a scouting odyssey for the Patriots coach, who had his eye on Cunningham for several seasons. Meyer says Belichick’s interest in the linebacker was piqued when Cunningham was a sophomore — the New England coach made several trips to Florida to spend time with Meyer, and with a collection of great defenders on the Florida roster, the player that always seemed to interest Belichick the most was Cunningham.

“That started his sophomore year,” Meyer said of Belichick’s interest in Cunningham. “Coach Belichick would always come down and watch film and I’d sometimes sit in there and he would keep asking about [Jermaine]: ‘Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy?’ And you had Derrick Harvey, you had Jarvis Moss, Carlos Dunlap, and then Jermaine was kind of the next guy, but he would always say ‘Who is that guy? I love that guy.’

“Bill Belichick’s the one who saw a lot in him.”

New England has struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks the last two seasons, but Meyer believes the emergence of Cunningham could go a long way toward solving those problems for the Patriots.

“He’s got an incredible work ethic — he’s probably as hard a working guy as we’ve had,” Meyer said of Cunningham. “He was excellent with his hands. When we recruited him, he was 195 pounds, and now he’s 260. He’s always been real fast over the course of his career. He’s got a lot of speed.”

Does one bad season really trump all that?