'Great offseason' for Cunningham

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
12:28
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Third-year outside linebacker/defensive end Jermaine Cunningham enters an offseason where some might say he's on the roster bubble. The 2010 second-round pick out of Florida went from 50.9 percent playing time as a rookie to 3.6 percent last year.

But Cunningham has already done something right this year, impressing Bill Belichick.

"Jermaine's had a great offseason," Belichick said Tuesday morning at Gillette Stadium, as the team's mandatory minicamp kicked off. "He's really worked hard. He looks good."

A great offseason, according to Belichick, is one that includes "physical improvement", "overall mental grasp of what we're doing", and good "reactions and technique" in non-contact work on the field.

Asked what led to Cunningham dipping in 2011, Belichick said, "I don't know. I'm sure it was a combination of things. Whatever happened last year, with any of our players -- good, bad, indifferent, whatever it was -- it really is not that important at this point. We're really trying to move forward and evaluate the team on a current basis, and give everyone an opportunity out there to show where they're at, and show what they can do."

As for what Cunningham can do, he had his most success in the team's defensive scheme as an early-down 3-4 outside linebacker. That's what he primarily played in his rookie season.

Last year, Cunningham might have been hurt by the lack of an offseason program (because of the lockout). Another factor was the team shifting its defensive scheme to a 4-3, with Cunningham playing end in the limited time he was on the field.

"We'll see where it takes us this year," Belichick said, when asked why Cunningham's progression headed in the wrong direction. "It will be up to him, and how he performs, relative to the other players at his position. I think we have good competition there."

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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