|In the wake of Jermaine Cunningham’s suspension, who will have to step their game up?||11.26.12 at 3:22 pm ET|
The four-game suspension of defensive end Jermaine Cunningham for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing substances will put more responsibility on the shoulders of veteran Trevor Scott, and perhaps rookie Jake Bequette, going forward into the final month of the season. In addition, it could hasten the return of rookie defensive end Chandler Jones, who went down with an ankle injury in a Nov. 18 win over the Colts and sat out Thursday’s victory against the Jets. Regardless, it will leave the Patriots’ pass rush thin as New England heads into an important four-game stretch.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Cunningham, who had been moved around some over the course of the 2012 season from defensive end to the interior, had six quarterback hits and 2.5 sacks over the first 11 games of the season. However, because of the suspension, he’ll now be sidelined for the next four games, which means he’ll sit out upcoming contests against the Dolphins (Dec. 2), Texans (Dec. 10), 49ers (Dec. 16) and Jaguars (Dec. 23). He’ll be eligible to return to the team on Dec. 24.
Here’s a look at the three who will be asked to step their game up in his absence.
•Scott is in his first season with New England, and has seen occasional work in relief of Jones and Rob Ninkovich at defensive end. According to Pro Football Focus, the 28-year-old has played 110 snaps this season, most of which came against the Colts after Jones went down with his injury. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder, who had a career-high seven sacks in 2009 with the Raiders, will see a bump in playing time over the next four games for New England.
•Bequette was a third-round pick out of out of Arkansas who has fundamentally taken a redshirt season this year. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder has mostly sat — he’s only gotten into two games this year and has no stats — while others like Scott, Cunningham, Francis and Jones have gotten the bulk of the reps. (He was named a Practice Player of the Week in late October.) But with Cunningham’s ban, Bequette will likely get bumped up the depth chart, and could see some situational work over the next four games as a result.
•While the Patriots don’t want to try and rush the 6-foot-5, 220-pound rookie back, they’d love to have him return to the field sooner rather than later. One of the two best pass rushers on the team, he has nine quarterback hits and six sacks through the first 11 games of the season (second only to Ninkovich).
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