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?