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New England Patriots Links 8/04/10 - Cunningham Could Be First Rookie Starter

<em>Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have a teaching moment at camp</em>.
Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have a teaching moment at camp.

Paul Perillo offers some notes from Tuesday afternoon's full-pads practice.

--The next segment saw the defensive backs join in and the receivers had some struggles. Rob Gronkowski continues to impress in that area, easily beating Brandon McGowan for a touchdown. But Torry Holt had Leigh Bodden beat across the middle and had the pass bounce off his chest. On the next play, Randy Moss was stuffed by Darius Butler and never got into his route.

–The first team period featured a defense with Brandon Spikes at inside linebacker next to Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty (left) and Butler (right) at corner. Jermaine Cunningham and Tully Banta-Cain were the outside linebackers. When Mayo left, Tyrone McKenzie stepped in next to Spikes.

Mike Reiss notes Jermaine Cunningham stayed after practice for some extra work Tuesday morning, being tutored by Gerard Warren on some finer points of the game.

The snapshot of that moment reflects how Cunningham has attacked his first NFL training camp. He’s been all-in, and given the Patriots’ shortage at outside linebacker/rush defensive end, he’s received quite a few repetitions. On Monday, Bill Belichick said that Cunningham has "picked up things very well" and that "each day you can definitely see him getting better, more confident, understanding things that happened the day before and being able to process that." Cunningham said that the Patriots’ playbook is about "10 times thicker" than the one he had at Florida, where he was primarily a defensive end in a 4-3 alignment. With the Patriots, he is making the switch to 3-4 outside linebacker.

Mike Rodak (student assistant to Mike Reiss) offers his observations of practice 12.

Spikes gets nod over McKenzie. With Gary Guyton missing his second full day of practice, one thing that has stood out is rookie Brandon Spikes getting the nod with the top unit over second-year Tyrone McKenzie at inside linebacker. This would not appear to be an indictment of McKenzie, but rather the poise and development of Spikes shining through. He continued to be the most aggressive member of the defense, working through blocks on his blitzes and batting down a pass in full-team work. In one-on-one pass rush drills, Spikes steamrolled guard Rich Ohrnberger, knocking Ohrnberger on his backside.