FOXBORO, Mass. — It took a little longer than most imagined, but the Patriots finally addressed their pass-rushing need when they selected Florida's Jermaine Cunningham with the 53rd pick in the draft.
The 6-foot-3, 266-pounder started 38 of 45 games during his four-year career, and he registered 152 tackles (80 solo), 19 1/2 sacks, 34 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one interception, seven pass breakups and 11 quarterback pressures. He also blocked one extra point.
Cunningham played defensive end at Florida, but he figures to translate to outside linebacker in the Patriots' 3-4 scheme. He's a sturdy pass rusher who helps an obvious need in New England. Cunningham's stats were similar to those of teammate Carlos Dunlap, who received most of the praise in Florida but didn't have the leadership abilities of Cunningham. His stock likely suffered due to recent shoulder and biceps injuries.
Cunningham will join the outside linebacker rotation with Tully Banta-Cain, Adalius Thomas (maybe?), Pierre Woods and Shawn Crable, along with versatile linebackers Gary Guyton and Tyrone McKenzie. The Patriots clearly needed some new blood in their pass-rushing unit, which frequently disappeared last season, and Cunningham will definitely help that area. He'll have a really good chance to earn frequent snaps in 2010.
Cunningham and Florida teammate Brandon Spikes had a pre-draft meeting in Gainesville, Fla., with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, and now the two Gators will head to New England together. Cunningham and Spikes were roommates in the Florida dorms together, and Spikes said they'll probably room together in New England. Each spoke highly of one another during their respective conference calls with the New England media.
"Brandon Spikes was pretty much the middle of our defense like Tim Tebow was the center of the offense," Cunningham said. "He goes out there, and when he's clicking, the whole defense was clicking."
Echoed 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."
"You could see it a lot. Every year, at least once a year, Coach Belichick would come down and talk to the team. And just how much Coach [Urban] Meyer would talk about Coach Belichick, what a great coach he is, how the Patriots do stuff."
–Cunningham on how visible the relationship is between Belichick and Florida head coach Urban Meyer.