Future Focus: Outside linebacker

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
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Ninth in a series of positional "look-aheads" for the Patriots:

Outside linebacker: Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Tully Banta-Cain, Eric Moore, Marques Murrell

[+] EnlargeJermaine Cunningham
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesThe development of rookie outside linebacker Jermaine Cunningham is something the Patriots will be watching closely.
Stat check: Banta-Cain played the highest total of snaps (66.7 percent), followed by Cunningham (50.9 percent) and Ninkovich (47.0 percent). Playing-time-wise, Moore came on strong late in the year, averaging 45 snaps in the final four regular-season games.

First instinct: The Patriots need to generate more pass rush from this spot.

Storyline not to be overlooked: Cunningham’s development. The 2010 second-round draft choice tailed off at the end of the season, which might have been tied to a calf injury. The offseason between a player’s rookie and second season is often the time for the biggest jump in improvement, and that could be threatened in the event of a lockout.

Future: Cunningham is signed through 2013, followed by Banta-Cain (2012), Ninkovich (2011), Moore (2011) and Murrell (2011).

Final thought: This is one of the most challenging positions to project in the draft, which makes selecting a player in the first round more of a risk. But with three of the draft’s first 33 picks, and six of the first 92, the Patriots figure to invest highly in the position.

Your thoughts: How do you think the Patriots should approach the situation at outside linebacker? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this blog.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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