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New England Patriots Links 7/20/10 - Jermaine Cunningham Instinctive, Selfless, Tough

<em>Jermaine Cunningham at OTAs</em>
Jermaine Cunningham at OTAs

Rich Perillo profiles Patriots 2nd-round draft pick OLB Jermaine Cunningham.

The biggest question about Cunningham is whether he will be capable of making the switch from playing with his hand on the ground to standing up as a linebacker. To Cunningham it doesn’t matter as he sees the issue simply. When asked which spot he prefers, he had an easy reply.

"Either one," he said. "I’m a football player, so as long as I’m on the field I think everything’s fine."

Last year the Patriots had a hard time generating a consistent pass rush. Cunningham will have every opportunity to help the team improve in this area but Belichick isn’t focused on any one area.

"I hope he’ll be able to contribute to us defensively running and passing," he said.

According to Belichick, Cunningham is a very instinctive player and the coach points out that he has been productive against a high level of competition in the talent-rich SEC.

"The guy’s played against a lot of NFL tackles last year or this year — guys who are or will be playing in the NFL. I think you saw [that] at LSU or Alabama. Andre Smith from two years ago, Michael Oher from Mississippi. We saw him against a lot of good people."

Like McGinest and Vrabel, Cunningham will bring far more to the table than just his physical ability. Like his predecessors he is an outstanding leader and the ultimate team player. He put his team ahead of his career and played with an injured shoulder in his senior season, including in the SEC Championship against eventual national champion Alabama, which caused him to miss the workouts at the NFL Combine.

His selflessness and leadership abilities were very appealing Belichick, who has lost a ton of leadership off the defense over the last couple of years.

"He’s a tough guy, a hard-working guy, very well respected on that football team in that program," Belichick said. "I think he was one of the real leaders for them on defense along with [fellow second-round pick] Brandon Spikes."