By: Ian Logue
In a piece I wrote back on July 6th, the reports were pretty positive for rookie defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. That continues to be the case so far through week one of Patriots training camp.
Back in April when linebacker Brandon Spikes and Cunningham were drafted out of Florda, much of the talk at the time centered around Spikes and how he would fit in with the current group of linebackers. At the time very few expected much from Cunningham, and the expectations were pretty low.
Rookie LB Jermaine Cunningham has impressed everyone so far at training camp. (PHOTO: Icon/SMI)
While Spikes has played fairly well so far, it’s been Cunningham who’s been getting the attention recently. The transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in New England’s system seems to be going smoothly, and he’s made quite an impression while working with the first team defense.
By all accounts should he continue to improve, it’s looking more and more like he appears to be poised to earn a starting spot at that position with just a little over a month to go before the start of the season. When asked on Tuesday if he felt like a3-4 outside linebacker yet, Cunningham said he’s just focused on getting better.
“I feel like a football player,” Cunningham told the Boston Herald yesterday. “Out here on the football field with cleats on, just tackle the person with the football.”
“I’m just out here trying to get better. That’s what practice is for, to come out and get better every day.”
Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com followed him earlier this week, and while he struggled a bit that day, he appears to be handling things a bit better and the kinks are starting to get worked out. Reiss even said in his Tuesday mailbag that he may be the fastest guy at his position.
“I think he’s fast,” wrote Reiss. “I locked in on him Monday night in pass-rush drills and I think he’s their fastest player at that spot.”
When asked if he could fill in next to Mayo at the outside linebacker position as a rookie, Reiss said he wouldn’t be surprised if that ended up happening.
“It’s simple to me: If he’s the best option, he will be the choice, rookie or not,” said Reiss. “Based on the current personnel, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case.”
Clearly the person he has to impress is obviously head coach Bill Belichick, and the good news for Cunningham is that he was indeed given some positive comments during a general question about the linebackers on Monday.
“Jermaine has picked up things very well,” Belichick said during his press conference on Monday. “I think each day you can definitely see him getting better, more confident, understanding things that happened the day before and being able to process that.”
The other great thing about Cunningham has been his work ethic, and we saw a bit of that on Tuesday when Reiss reported that Cunningham stayed on the field for some extra work, working with veteran defensive lineman Gerard Warren. Cunningham had said yesterday that the playbook was “10 times thicker” than the one he had at Florida, and obviously is focused on trying to get everything down.
In Reiss’ earlier spotlight piece on him he appeared to struggle a bit and got pushed around early on, but did a solid job in coverage and appears to be getting more and more comfortable in that role. Hopefully as he continues to work hard the rest will come, and he’ll work is way into the line-up. After Monday night’s evening session where the team practiced inside Gillette on the field in front of about 20,000 – he’s looking forward to seeing what it’s like when you add another 48,000 or so to the mix.
“I came out in the stadium and got chills,” Cunningham said. “It’s right around the corner, but also, it’s a long time away. Just come out here and try to get better.”