Undrafted QB Malik Cunningham brings intriguing skill set to Patriots-News

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick ideas and notes all around New England Patriots and the NFL:

1. Cunningham at QB: The Patriots have had an undrafted quarterback make their opening day 53 for the 19th consecutive year, which is tied with the Broncos for the longest streak in the NFL.

In the smaller than usual class of 2023, Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham It represents the best chance for the streak to continue — and chances like two strikes are impressive.

“He’s going to be one of the strongest players when he’s on the field,” said Lance Taylor, Cunningham’s coordinator at Louisville last season and the head coach at Western Michigan. “He can turn bad plays into home runs and special plays faster than anyone I’ve seen, especially at quarterback. He’s very special with his ability.

“I’ve been lucky to have some really good players, and But Newton, and the Jets in the Rex Ryan era, and other top college quarterbacks. He is one of the strongest and most explosive players you can find. “

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Cunningham started 47 games at Louisville, where he previously hosted the Patriots. Branch of Deion serves as director of player development and alumni relations. He was offered a scholarship by Alabama as a safety but chose Louisville because he wanted to play quarterback and follow in the footsteps of Baltimore RavensLamar Jackson.

He finished his career 692-of-1,105 for 9,664 yards with 70 touchdowns and 29 interceptions, but it was as a fast and agile ball carrier that he stood out, totaling 619 carries for 3,184 yards and 50 touchdowns.

The Patriots, who finished 32nd in red zones last season, 28th in first downs, and scored just 31 touchdowns, could benefit from the kind of sizzle Cunningham provided in college.

Perhaps new manager Bill O’Brien has a mind to reckon with. It’s probably a must-have toolkit. It can be game planning and helping the defense prepare to face strong quarterbacks like the Eagles’. Jalen Hurtsstarting in Week 1. Or maybe it’s as simple as feeding the quarterback hose, which is always good business given the cost of the position.

Cunningham is currently fourth on the New England cornerback depth chart Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe and recently signed Follow McSorley. The Patriots have carried three quarterbacks on opening day rosters the past four seasons, so there’s a clear path for Montgomery, Alabama, native leapfrog McSorley to keep the team alive.

“I think he’s a quarterback, first and foremost. He’s got the skills and tools to play at that level,” Taylor said. “Whatever job he is asked to do, he will do it well. That’s one thing I found with him, there was nothing we could give him that he couldn’t do or figure out and do well. “

Cunningham, who was a team captain in 2022, was one of the most sought-after contributors following the draft. His contract included $200,000 in guaranteed money, matching his late draft pick.

“Malik is a great leader, he prepares the right way, he loves football, he’s a great teammate,” Taylor said. “He is a calm leader, but when needed, he can command and have a voice.

“I think one of the things that surprised me when I first met him, we were working out in the summer and he was winning every game he got, the running backs and the talented, athletic guys on our team. He’s a competitor.”

2. Bye bye: The Patriots don’t play an opponent coming into 2023, which some see as an advantage because of the rest. The Rams and 49ers, by contrast, play four upcoming opponents. This is the first time since 2013 that the Patriots have not faced an opponent on the road, according to ESPN analytics.

3. Rookies under the radar: First round pick Christian Gonzalez and the rest of the Patriots’ rookie class arrived in town last week for the remainder of the spring, and like every team but the Rams, participated in rookie minicamp. Coach Bill Belichick, never shy about being an outsider, was one of the few coaches to close rookie minicamps to the media; Only the Patriots, Ravens and Raiders closed rookie practices to the media. Belichick will open the office to the media on May 25 for the first time.

4. Heritage of patriots: How did NFL drafters see the Patriots coming into the 8-9 season? Onnie Bose, vice president of broadcasting, said of the merger New England policy: “They’ve got one game almost everywhere — on every prime-time package, one international, one NFL Network, one CBS double-header, one FOX double-header — and I think that’s a picture of a team that can play a lot of places. The legacy of The team and the AFC East championship helps that.”

5. Brady Money: Patriots defense That of Godchaux he joked that Tom BradyThe ‘return of the Patriots’ home opener against the Eagles, as part of a request from owner Robert Kraft for fans to thank him, means it will be a hot ticket. It appears to be currently the most sought-after ticket of the entire NFL season. According to Vivid Seats, the average ticket price for this game is $807, followed by the Cowboys at the 49ers ($501). Godchaux said: “We want to win every game, but this game, we have to win.”

6. Entering the offseason: There was a moment in the Patriots’ practice room last week that highlighted one of the biggest benefits of the team’s voluntary program (which enters week five on Monday). He came in as a linebacker/director Ja’Whaun Bentley was answering questions from the press with a new line/special introduction Chris Board he waited on the sidelines. Bentley was asked about the Board, which caused a laugh between the two. As Bentley said later, a successful offseason program is when players begin to make the building blocks that will carry them through the season.

7. Mac on the go: Running back James Robinson, who signed a two-year contract with the Patriots in free agency, identified Jones at quarterback in the team’s offseason program. “That guy can run for a long time,” Robinson said with a laugh. Robinson isn’t the only Patriot to notice Jones’ performance and performance this season, but what’s notable is what another person close to Jones has to say: Jones’ day-to-day behavior seems closer to what his teammates saw in his prime. last season’s struggle.

8. He said: “At the end of the planning day, [Patriots president] Jonathan [Kraft] and I was chatting, and I said, ‘This was great, great pressure. I am optimistic about the team.’ And he said, ‘You do that every year!’ But I really believe it. We were able to find seven top picks that we identified before the event. I think it gives us a better balance of what our needs are. I think our free agent signing and signing Bill O’Brien would make a big difference. ” – owner Robert Kraft, on NFL Network

9. Belichick and Navy: Because of his close ties to the Naval Academy, Belichick’s biggest challenge would be getting the Patriots to play a road game on Dec. 10, which would mean traveling with the team during the annual Army-Navy scrimmage. game, which will be held at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 9. Instead, the Patriots visit the Steelers on Thursday, Dec. 7, making it a small week for Belichick to enjoy the heaviest game in his career.

10. Did you know? The last time the Patriots opened the season at home against an NFC team — as they will in 2023 with a visit from the defending NFC champion Eagles — was in 2000. That was Belichick’s first year as coach and New England lost. at home to Tampa Bay 21-16. Additionally, with the team hosting Miami in Week 2, this year marks the first time since 1995 that the team has opened with two straight home games.

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