Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/17/14
New-england-patriots
FOXBORO, Mass. — Jermaine Cunningham was back at Patriots practice on Wednesday, and his return couldn’t come at a better time for the team’s struggling pass rush. During Cunningham’s four-game suspension, the Patriots managed seven sacks, which is just about on par with their season average of two per game, but the middling unit has found even more trouble pressuring the quarterback of late. The Patriots don’t boast a very productive pass rush as it is, ranking 22nd in the NFL with just 30 sacks on the season, but without Cunningham the problem became something of an epidemic. They managed five sacks in their first two games without the third-year lineman, but in the past two, which included a loss to San Francisco and an ugly win in Jacksonville, they’ve sacked the quarterback just twice (once each game). So, Cunningham’s return should offer his teammates some relief along the line and provide some help for a front seven that could use a bit of a kick-start. Cunningham doesn’t bring the elite pass rushing ability of a Chandler Jones or even Rob Ninkovich, as his 6-foot-3, 255-pound frame isn’t the most suitable for getting after the quarterback in his role as an interior rusher. But he did record 2 1/2 sacks through 11 games earlier this season and, maybe even more importantly, he has a rangy skill set. Beyond chasing down quarterbacks, Cunningham has proved to be a serviceable run stopper and also adds some versatility to a pretty rigid defensive line. He’s able to play both inside and out along the line, allowing for some flexibility, which should be helpful for a team so keen on running multiple defensive schemes. Jones and Ninkovich will continue to be the team’s starters on the edge, as has been the case for most of the season, but Cunningham’s readdition to the roster should allow some other guys to fill back into their normal roles. Brandon Deaderick and Justin Francis can be relied upon less and return to their more limited situational functions, while Trevor Scott, who had two sacks in Cunningham’s absence, will be able to fall back into place as a situational pass rusher — think Mark Anderson last season. All of that is, of course, contingent on if Cunningham is ready to jump right back into his role or if Bill Belichick feels he’s fit to contribute. “I think any time a player comes back after an absence for a while — whatever the reasons are don’t matter — that there’s a combination of catching up mentally to what’s going on but also catching up from a technique standpoint and also communication and reaction,” Belichick said. “Really, no matter how much a player runs around a track or does sit ups or whatever, it’s not the same as when the other 21 guys are out there hearing plays called, reacting to what happens on the other side of the play, communicating, making adjustments with your teammates.” Cunningham wasn’t limited in practice on Wednesday, which would appear to be a good sign for his availability on Sunday — although the team does hold a one-week roster exemption for him. Then again, re-acclimating a player to the game after four weeks away could spell trouble, which is exactly what the Patriots don’t need heading into the playoffs. Cunningham does add another necessary element to this defense, and his versatility should prove key especially to the pass rush, even if it is only in a limited capacity. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Nick Diaz apologizes to fans for skipping open workout

NFLPA President compares Goodell to a 2-year-old

NFL explains how Super Bowl balls will be prepped

Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao close to deal for fight

TJ Lang: Suh wanted to fight me after stepping on Aaron Rodgers

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Aaron Hernandez jurors allowed to watch Super Bowl

Tiger misses cut: ‘I’m only doing this so I won’t get fined’

Rex Ryan: Seahawks need to ‘take the air out of the football’

J.J. Watt buys cabin in the middle of nowhere to train

Six teams have done background work on Peterson

NBA set to earn $700M through streaming deal in China

Five NFL players who could be cap casualties in 2015

Making the case for NFL co-MVPs

WATCH: Tom Brady sings about balls being deflated

WATCH: Bruce Pearl gets warm reception in Tennessee return

WATCH: Serena Williams loses point for yelling "come on!"

Report: Missy Elliott joining Katy Perry for halftime show

WATCH: Jimmy Butler throws down half-court alley-oop

President Obama zings Patriots over Deflate-gate

Each major conference's Player Of The Year candidates

Super Bowl XLIX preview and predictions: Patriots-Seahawks

49 Stops to Super Bowl XLIX

Most unexpected MLB free agent signings of past 10 years

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Five likely cap casualties of 2015

Making the case for NFL co-MVPs

WATCH: Tom Brady sings about balls

Missy Elliott to join Katy Perry at SB?

Obama zings Pats over Deflate-gate

Each major conference's POY candidates

Super Bowl XLIX preview and predictions: Patriots vs. Seahawks

The 13 things we want to see in Super Bowl XLIX

49 Stops to Super Bowl XLIX

Tiger Woods, misses cut: ‘I’m only doing this so I won’t get fined’

Ranking the repeat SB champions

Roger Goodell grilled on Deflategate

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.