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Player to Watch: Jermaine Cunningham

(Continuing a series from last week, Mike Rodak offers another player to look out for at Patriots organized team activities. Field Yates' selection was posted this morning.)

Suffice it to say, things did not work out very well for Jermaine Cunningham last season. The 2010 second-round pick began training camp playing defensive end with the top unit, alongside Eric Moore, but soon the additions of Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, and Mark Anderson pushed Cunningham into a marginal role.

He played in nine games -- a healthy scratch for some contests -- and recorded just one tackle before being placed on injured reserve in December with a hamstring injury.

It was a dramatic fall for the Florida product, who started 11 games in his rookie season, tallying 34 tackles and one sack.

He was an outside linebacker in New England's 3-4 defense that season, and the switch back to a 4-3, where Carter and Anderson provided more pass rush, may have been a contributing factor in his sluggish sophomore campaign.

While the Patriots will likely stay in a base 4-3 defense this season, Carter, Anderson, and Ellis are no longer on the team. Between two 2012 draft picks -- first-rounder Chandler Jones and third-rounder Jake Bequette -- as well as free agent Trevor Scott, there is another wave of newcomers against which Cunningham has a chance to compete for a larger role.

In two practices of organized team activities open to reporters this spring, Cunningham seemingly has been the most active participant in the full-team periods.

These drills feature personnel shifting regularly, so it is difficult to gauge where Cunningham stands in relation to his counterparts like Jones, Bequette, Scott, Rob Ninkovich, and Markell Carter. But what is clear is that it remains too early to write off Cunningham's career in New England, even when it seemed like he would be buried in a crowded defensive line depth chart.

If a promising prospect like Jones does not make an immediate impact, Cunningham may in line to compete for a significant role in the defense once training camp begins in eight weeks.