By: Steve Balestrieri
Jermaine Cunningham, the Patriots DE/DT is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is facing a lot of competition for a roster spot in 2013. Cunningham, a 2nd round draft pick out of Florida was taken with the 53rd pick in the 2010 draft and hasn’t had the impact that the Patriots were hoping for.
Cunningham played sparingly in his rookie season but the team saw enough to hope that he’d make that big second year jump in 2011. But he seemed to take a step back and played little and was generally ineffective. But Cunningham re-dedicated himself to the Patriots off-season training program in 2012, drawing raves from Bill Belichick for his efforts.
Jermaine Cunningham will need a strong training camp to stick in 2013. (FILE:USPresswire)
Breakout in 2012 curtailed Cunningham played in every one of the Patriots first 11 games mostly as an interior pass rusher in sub-packages with the occasional series at defensive end. He had his most productive game against the Jets on Thanksgiving registering 6 tackles while playing in 89 percent of the snaps during the game.
But just a few days later, he was hit with a suspension from the NFL which cost him four games for PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs). He returned for the final regular season game against Miami and for the two playoff contests but was mostly ineffective in all three.
Cunningham did have the most QB pressures on the team in 2012 but in reality the Patriots were not a consistent team in rushing the passer and Cunningham could only rack up 2.5 sacks, so in the entire context, it doesn’t mean that much. Plus, playing inside he was smaller than most tackles and wasn’t very adept at stopping the run.
DT Camp Competition Deep Going into 2013, the Patriots have long realized that they need to upgrade the interior pass rush, and brought in new bodies. The team signed Armond Armstead from the CFL and then veteran Tommy Kelly from the Raiders. Both should improve the interior pass rush.
In past years they tried to lure Red Bryant from the Seahawks, brought in Albert Haynesworth and Jonathan Fanene who both flamed out. Bryant stayed put in Seattle, Haynesworth was ineffective and didn’t have the drive to compete any longer while Fanene had knee issues and never took the field.
Also in the mix this year are Marcus Forston, Joe Vellano as well as Dewayne Cherrington so the team seems poised to move on to bigger, more physical players in the interior of the line so Cunningham’s chances there are limited.
DE Stacked as well At his natural defensive end position, the team is set for now with starters Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, whom the team is hoping for a big second year jump. In 2012, it seemed that undrafted rookie free agent Justin Francis was supplanting Cunningham as the first available defensive end as the season wore down. Second year player Jake Bequette who was the 90th player taken in the 2012 NFL Draft is coming off a red-shirt year where he played a total of only 29 snaps and has benefitted from the team’s strength and conditioning program and is looking to carve out a niche for himself.
The team also signed CFL and Northeastern alum Jason Vega, Marcus Bernard and selected Michael Buchanan in the 2013 NFL Draft. Competition at the DE spot should be fierce. Cunningham will be fighting with several new faces for snaps and judging from the way 2012 played out, could very well be on the outside looking in. These players offer more (on paper) of a pass rush than does Cunningham and the pass rush is what the team needs to seriously upgrade.
Cunningham like fellow Florida alum Brandon Spikes is entering the final year of his contract and will have to step up his game if he plans on being around to get a new contract or even make the team in 2013. This should be a great position to watch in training camp.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll bring the latest news from mini-camps and training camp as well as any other breaking news coming out of Foxboro.