After sitting through minicamp and OTA’s, we’ll be taking a look at each of the new guys over the next couple of weeks to see exactly what we’ve learned from published news reports about each of them heading into Training Camp this month.  Today we’ll look back at what we’ve heard from reports on 2nd round draft pick – linebacker Jermaine Cunningham.


Jermaine Cunningham was quite a player at Florida, and appears to be doing the right things so far here in New England (PHOTO CREDIT: Icon/SMI)

The interesting thing I found while digging through all these news reports as I was putting this piece together, is how highly coveted he was by many fans from other teams who were discussing him pre-draft. 

After reading a lot of the reports from his college career, I can definitely see why.

He was a beast when it came to getting into the backfield, with 34 tackles for a loss over his final three seasons with Florida, and so far he’s done well early on here with the Patriots through minicamps and OTA’s.  At this rate he appears to be a strong candidate to potentially earn a role as a starter if he continues to impress once Training Camp begins.

Andy Hart of Patriots Football Weekly recently fielded a question in an “Ask PFW” piece back on June 15th regarding his thoughts on Cunningham, and admitted that he’s intrigued by the rookie linebacker heading into training camp.

“I am very much intrigued by Cunningham,” wrote Hart.  “He’s obviously young, but I think he has the tools to do everything that’s required at the position. In an ideal world I do think he’d be the opening day starter at one of the OLB spots. But we have a long way to go to get to that point and I won’t put that type of expectation on him at this point. Color me intrigued and let’s leave it at that.”

For those who didn’t know, Jeff Howe of NESN.com reported just after the draft that Cunningham and Florida teammate Brandon Spikes had a pre-draft meeting in Gainesville, Fla., with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.  Spikes and Cunningham were also roommates in the Florida dorms in college, and Spikes has plenty of respect for him.  Now the two are here in New England. 

Spikes: “Jermaine is a tough guy. I’ve been to war with him plenty of times, and I’d keep him in my corner any day.”

After being drafted, the Patriot Ledger published the draft day Q & A with the linebacker, with Cunningham talking a little more about his relationship with Spikes.

“We spent a semester together in the dorms our second year. [It’s] just the simple fact that both of us came in the same class in 2006 and are coming out together and having an opportunity to play together with the Patriots.”

Howe recently discussed the defensive depth the team has, and after watching OTA’s said that Cunningham “has worked with the hybrids in spring practices, and early indications make it appear he will fill a similar role as Banta-Cain and Burgess”.

Some fans are also wondering if they could add a veteran at the linebacker position, as Belichick has always favored veterans over younger guys at that position.  However, Paul Perillo recently said in another “Ask PFW” piece that he feels Belichick is really going to take a look at who they have before opting to go in another direction.

I think Belichick probably wants to look at some of his younger options (Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich, Shawn Crable) before he decides to pull the trigger on such a move.

On May 1st, the fourth practice for Cunningham, Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com reported that Cunningham got in some work dropping into coverage, and according to Reiss, “didn’t look out of place.”

“This looked like a practice in which Cunningham spent more time in coverage than he did “rushing” (as much as one can rush in 7 on 7 work), so it was a good chance to see how he looked going backward instead of forward,” wrote Reiss.  “To the layman, he does not look out of place, although on one of the final plays of practice he might have missed his assignment when sprinting down the middle of the field, because linebackers coach Matt Patricia quickly addressed him after the play. “

On May 26th Hart reported that Spikes ran the huddle, while Cunningham also saw action.

“Brandon Spikes, no surprise, ran the huddle at times on defense,” wrote Hart.  “Fellow Gator Jermaine Cunningham got plenty of reps at right outside linebacker.”

Reiss reported on June 1st that a recent observation by analyst Mel Kiper Jr. called the young linebacker “relentless”.

“But it was Kiper’s thoughts on outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham — one of his sleeper candidates — that caught the eye,” wrote Reiss. “Kiper said he revisited film of Cunningham and was struck by his relentlessness.”

Back on June 2nd Hart reported that he spent a lot of time watching the linebackers, and had this to say about how different players lined up.

“Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton lined up a lot together on the inside, just as they did on the game field a year ago,” wrote Hart. “But on the outside I saw many different guys get reps on both sides with a variety of groupings in different drills. I saw some with Tully Banta-Cain on the left and Derrick Burgess on the right. I saw Jermaine Cunningham on the left with Burgess on the right. I saw Burgess on the left. I saw guys like Shawn Crable, Rob Ninkovich and everyone else on the depth chart rotate through. I wouldn’t make too much of anyone basing any regular season lineup predictions at outside linebacker based on any of the reps we saw at the spot today.”

According to Hart, back on June 17th Cunningham joined Shawn Crable, Derrick Burgess, Tully Banta-Cain, and Marques Murrell off to the side of the practice field working on pass rush drills with defensive assistant coach Patrick Graham.

Reiss said back on June 22nd that “it seems like Spikes and Cunningham are doing the right things.”

The only negative we’ve seen came from NBC Sports, who reported that the timing of Derrick Burgess being re-signed by the Patriots may have indicated that they weren’t pleased with what they saw from Cunningham during minicamp.

Cunningham remains unsigned, but Christopher Price at WEEI.com has said that the remaining early round picks will likely see their deals hammered out once the later round picks are under contract.

Needless to say make sure you’ve got your eye on this kid when camp opens next month, because it appears he’s going to be a solid addition to this defense.

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Note: A special thanks to Myles from the “PatsCast Podcast” (Download it on ITunes) who I spoke to last night, and he inspired today’s selection of Cunningham for this piece.