As some of you probably know, I root for the Gators as my college team. Though I don't follow them as avidly as the Pats (I don't post on any Gators forums), I do find a way to watch all of their games. Out of the three that the Pats took this past weekend, I've watched Spikes and Hernandez the most but have watched enough of Cunningham to feel that I can also give an honest assessment on him as well. 1. Jermaine Cunningham, OLB: At 6'3", 266, Cunningham certainly has the size and athleticism to play OLB for the Patriots. As a Gator, Cunningham saw mostly one on one competition against an opposing offensive lineman but was capable of shedding blocks either using his initial quickness or by using a variety of techniques to get into the offensive backfield. He also has a high motor from what I can tell. Even when the Gators were being tested in 2009, Cunningham always appeared to give 100% on every play. As a run stopper, Cunningham was more than adequate at setting the edge on wide runs, which is good news for us no matter who he happens to line up behind (Warren or the slew of bodies we have at RDE). The concerns I have about Cunningham are his instincts. I've seen times when he's appeared to completely blow a coverage leaving a man right behind him (usually a RB) wide open for big games. On top of that, I've seen plenty of instances where Cunningham has completely overpursued, allowing the opposing runner to break off big gains. Under the right coaching (which he should find here), Cunningham can hone in these instincts and should hopefully become a good OLB for us. I have to add a disclaimer in here though that I did originally want Dunlap. I thought he would be the better pick-up for us but his and Cunningham's stats are virtually identical. 2. Brandon Spikes, ILB: Spikes is somebody who gives me concerns in which apparently none of my fellow Gators or Pats fans share. First, though, let me get to what I believe are his strengths. Spikes could be the thumper that I and others have been waiting for in this defense since the departure of Ted Johnson. I've seen him compared to Brian Cox and, based on his time at Florida, I'd say those comparisons are apt. He's a big, violent LB who excels at getting off blocks from men twice his size and disrupting this in both the passing game and the running game. He's a solid tackler who plays with a violent nature that enabled him to become the leader of the Florida defense (which ranked near the top of the SEC in two of the three years that he was a featured part in that system). A lot people criticized him for the "eye gouging" incident, but I say that I loved that. That incident pretty much perfectly describes the mean streak that Spikes has toward the opposition, which is something this team sorely needed at the position next to Jerod Mayo. I've also seen Spikes called the dirtiest player in college football, which I can also say is apt. If he sticks in the system, Spikes will be Rodney Harrison at LB. In the locker room, Spikes seems to be a natural leader and is extremely vocal. He should embrace the Patriot Way right off the bat. His speed, which has also been criticized, should not be an issue in this defense if his instincts stay intact and he can rely on his technique. Speaking of insticts, Spikes' are off the charts. Spikes was actually a type of ballhawk at the MLB position at Florida and regularly read the quarterback to pick the ball off (he's taken a few back for touchdowns). His instincts were also obvious in the running game as he knew and obeyed his gap assignments. The one concern that I have for Spikes is his motor. And yes, I know that you've probably never heard that mentioned about him before. However, there are a couple of instances in which one can question it. In 2007, when the defense was suffering, Meyer had to regularly get on Spikes and attempt to light a fire under his ass to get him to be a more vocal and passionate leader in the defense and it took a year for Spikes to respond. In his junior year, Spikes did become a leader on and off the field and it was obvious in the defense. His revenge hit on Moreno for the Georgia celebration the year before stands out. 2008 was by far his best year. However, in 2009 Spikes seemed to regress. As the offense struggled it looked to me like Spikes had lost interest in a couple of games that season. He wasn't the force he was in 2008 and was often the last guy in on a tackle. There were a couple of games in which he played like the junior year Brandon Spikes (rivalry games) but, for the most part, he wasn't as dominant as he was the year before. As a Gator fan, that concerned me about him. As a Pats fan, I'm willing to be more optimistic and grant him that, in 2007, he was still very young and maybe was not ready to become the leader of the defense. As for 2009, I'm not sure what to make of it. He may have had a nagging injury that bothered him for all we know. However, I love most of the things that he can do for us and look forward to seeing him on the field in years to come. 3. Aaron Hernandez, TE The Hernandez pick is my favorite of all of them and I consider him an absolute steal. As a player, Hernandez will fill two spots for us: TE and WR. He should play the H-Back role in our offense either lining up on the LOS or in the slot. Hernandez should give opposing defenses headaches by the math-up problems he'll give them. He can threaten the seam, the long passing game, and he's also more than willing to go over the middle of the field. His size is not ideal for run blocking, but it will give opposing DB's fits. In the passing game, he's powerful and more than capable of getting off a jam. He's quick enough to gain seperation from linebackers and he's athletic and powerful enough to gain seperation from corners and safeties. I've never heard of him being a natural leader in the locker room, but he's clean off the field and doesn't seem to have any character issues. Along with Gronk, he should immediately help in the red zone offense and should be able to help divert some of the attention from Moss early in the season. Whoever said his route running needed work should probably watch tape of him again. His route running is as crisp as any of our offensive draft picks and he seems to be bright enough to pick up the offense. The downside to Hernandez is that he isn't a consistent blocker and has trouble with a bullrush. However, considering the moves we made this offseason (Crumpler who is one of the better blocking TE's in the NFL right now, and Gronk who is said to be a willing and able blocker), Hernandez should see himself primarily running routes. And that's a good thing. Gator Mike, if you're out there buddy and manage to read this, I'd love for you to weigh in as well. Same goes to any Gator fans or people who avidly watched the Gators last season.