Pass-rush expectations for Cunningham

The Patriots' pass rush was inconsistent in 2009 and one possible improvement is the addition of second-round draft choice Jermaine Cunningham of Florida.

What could reasonably be expected from Cunningham?

While NFL.com analyst Pat Kirwan doesn't answer that question directly, he looks at rookie pass-rushers in general and concludes that it is one of the toughest positions to make an immediate impact. In his latest piece of NFL.com, Kirwan lists every rookie pass-rusher selected from 2006 to 2009 and details their production from their rookie season, which is modest.

"The problem for many rookie pass-rushers is that they have technique deficiencies, lack multiple pass-rush moves and don't realize the level of desire necessary to succeed at the pro level. Another issue is that many come in undersized and with limited strength or power. They get so beat up playing the run, that they have nothing left when it's time to pressure the quarterback."

Cunningham is 6-foot-3 and 266 pounds -- which is solid size for an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense -- and this will be one of his primary challenges in his rookie season.

His responsibilities will be more than just rushing the passer. He'll have to bang with offensive tackles and tight ends in terms of "setting the edge" against the run, an area in which Mike Vrabel used to excel.

Cunningham's progression will be one of the more important storylines for the Patriots in 2010.