MIAMI - OCTOBER 4: Chad Henne #7 of the Miami Dolphins has his pass batted down by Jermaine Cunningham #96 of the New England Patriots at Sun Life Field on October 4 2010 in Miami Florida. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
It might be just a regional thing, but fans of Boston-area sports teams are fickle. Extremely fickle.
A player could be the greatest since Ray Bourque or Ted Williams one week, and a complete disappointment the next.
A reverse case in point- Boston Celtics PG/SG Avery Bradley, who has been a focal point of a recent resurgence since the All Star break.
There are multiple other examples of this phenomenon, and it's certainly not limited to this region alone- New York and Philadelphia- area fans are definitely as mercurial- but the fact remains, that Boston takes the "what have you done for me lately" attitude to an unreasonable level. Often time, a player doesn't even have a chance to prove his worth.
Jermaine Cunningham, in my opinion, is an excellent example.
As the cries for pass rush, pass rush, pass rush reach a deafening level, the position of outside linebacker is a continual focal point for the focus of media and fanatics alike. We've all heard that Bill Belichick absolutely needs to take a playmaker with either one or both of his first round picks, and anything less would represent a colossal failure.
It's not like the Patriots lack depth at the position at this point- Markell Carter is seemingly a promising prospect, but more of a defensive end than linebacker. Trevor Scott was picked up in free agency this year, and Rob Ninkovich is coming off his best year in the NFL, having been one of two players with at least 6 sacks and two interceptions in the league.
Lest we forget about the 2010 second round pick Cunningham, who is coming off a disappointing sophomore season where he rarely saw the field (and was basically relegated from a starter to a special teamer). Cunningham fought an uphill battle last season, as Mark Anderson and Andre Carter were picked up in the offseason and added a pass rushing element that Jermaine couldn't. Early in the season, the former Gator was placed on injured reserve.
Let's check the facts: Cunningham was never an elite sack-machine in college, but his numbers over three years are very solid at the defensive end position, especially in the SEC- over 20 sacks and 40 tackles for loss when he was playing substantial time. He then came in as a rookie, and started 11 of 16 games for a 14-2 team. While Cunningham didn't blow anyone out of the water, he had a solid season that included a sack, two forced fumbles, and a pressure of Peyton Manning in a close contest late in the season that led to an interception.
Cunningham then fought an uphill battle coming into his second season- due to the lockout, he was not allowed to be in touch with his trainers or his coach, and had no offseason camp. He probably spent the time preparing for the outside linebacker role, shedding weight and playing more in space. He then came back, and was told that the team was implementing a switch to a 4-3 base and he would be asked to play with a hand in the dirt. Not only that, but the Patriots brought in two defensive ends that totalled 20 sacks between them throughout the season.
I'm not saying that Cunningham is going to be a revelation this year- hopefully, he's allowed time to develop as a player and given more reps in the rotation. What I am saying is to not be surprised when Belichick passes on the next buzzword of an athletic playmaker in favor of a productive defensive tackle, offensive guard or secondary player that hasn't been in any of the "experts" mock drafts.