Suspension over, lesson learned.
New England Patriots’ Defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham was activated to the team’s 53 man roster today, adding a much need wrinkle to the Patriots inconsistent pass rush – which goes to figure since it became that way when Cunningham started serving his suspension.
The Patriots also announced the promotions of Wide Receiver Kamar Aiken and defensive back Malcolm Williams to the active roster from the practice squad.
To make room for the activations, New England cut reserve defensive tackle Ron Brace
A third year product of the University of Florida, Cunningham had been a valuable key to a mid-season surge in the Patriots’ pass rush, when he started seeing time at tackle. Paired with Wilfork, he showed a propensity with his initial burst and quickness to penetrate and seal the guards to the outside, allowing his teammates to shoot the gaps.
Since being suspended, only two of the Patriots seven sacks have come from the interior, with Jerod Mayo reaching the QB on a hug blitz and Wilfork mauling a double team to paydirt.
Cunningham returns at a great time and expects to see plenty of reps against the Miami Dolphins tomorrow afternoon as the coaching staff will get him up to speed in game action. Chandler Jones figures to be the biggest beneficiary of Cunningham’s return, as his absence and Jones’ health have factored into a quiet second half of the season for the lanky rookie.
No one should sleep on Dont’a Hightower, either. The rookie from Alabama has come on in the past few games and now has four sacks on the season after missing a couple of games with health issues of his own – and has produced solid penetration, including a sack on Chad Henne last week.
With Cunningham’s return it appears that the Patriots are fully stocked on the line for the first time in two months – and softens the blow of Brandon Spikes probably being inactive for the Dolphins game as he battles a knee injury. Ninkovich has moved over to take Spikes’ spot, so look for him to take advantage of a gap or two.
It’s also good news for a Patriots secondary that sports a skeleton crew these days, as starting corners Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib are hobbled, forcing the staff to juggle players to stay the course while the two heal. Cunningham’s presence may mean that these beleaguered defensive backs have to hold their coverage maybe a little less longer.
While not the be all / end all for the Patriots’ defensive line, Cunningham was having a spirited season, contrary to last season’s disappointing sophomore slump campaign, and is counted on to be part of a rotation that is as deep as it is versatile.
When he was suspended, he knew that he let his team mates down – and now, he has a chance to make it up to them.