Bubble Watch: Jermaine Cunningham

(Continuing a month-long series analyzing players who are on the roster bubble and where they may potentially fit in 2012.)

NAME: Jermaine Cunningham

POSITION: Defensive end

AGE: 24

2011 STATS: 9 games (no starts), 1 tackle — placed on injured reserve on Dec. 10

INJURY STATUS: Did not finish minicamp due to an undisclosed injury


WHY HE SHOULD MAKE IT: At his first news conference of mandatory minicamp, head coach Bill Belichick said that Cunningham had a “great offseason,” improving in several areas. The Patriots may have drafted Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette, but Cunningham could still be part of the mix at defensive end. Brandon Deaderick and Jonathan Fanene can both slide inside and provide depth behind Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love at defensive tackle. With sub defense becoming more important, having Cunningham as a fifth defensive end and pass rusher could be more valuable than having Ron Brace or Gerard Warren as a fourth defensive tackle (behind Wilfork, Love and potentially Myron Pryor).

WHY HE SHOULD NOT MAKE IT: Veteran linebacker Rob Ninkovich appears set to see more time at defensive end this season, while free agent pickup Trevor Scott may have the inside track to a roster spot over Cunningham. Last season, the Patriots kept Cunningham on the roster but he rarely saw the field, not having a special teams role in what turned out to be an injury-shortened season for the former second-round pick. Cunningham missed time in minicamp with another injury, an issue to monitor heading into training camp. If he cannot secure a role on defense during the preseason, he will face an uphill battle to make the roster.

CLOSEST COMPETITION: DE Trevor Scott, DE Justin Francis, DE Andre Carter (if re-signed)