Patriots coach Bill Belichick  said Tuesday that when it comes to replacing defensive end Jermaine Cunningham , the Patriots will ‘have to take a look at’ their options going forward, but praised the work of Trevor Scott  as a possible fill-in at the spot.
‘Basically there are two options: we can bring somebody in from outside and sign them to the roster or we can do something with a player on the practice squad,’ he said on a conference call on Tuesday. ‘We’ll see. [We’ll] take a look at our options, talk to Nick Caserio, get his thoughts and input on it relative to the personnel that’s available, like we usually do. [We’ll] handle it the same as we usually handle those type of situations and then try to make the best decision for the team that we can for this week and the remaining five games.’
Cunningham said Tuesday that when it comes to Cunningham’s situation, ‘it’s a league matter, so it’s really out of our hands.’ As for Scott, he remains an option. He recently saw an uptick in playing time with the injury to Chandler Jones, and could realistically hold the fort until Cunningham is ready to return after his four-game suspension.
‘I think Trevor has done well,’ Belichick said. ‘Trevor is a versatile player. He’s a player that can play in coverage situations and has done that in the past. He’s played outside linebacker, similar to [Rob] Ninkovich , that type of a role. He’s played more down for us this year and played more down in his career, but he also does have that flexibility. He’s also very good in the kicking game ‘ kickoff, punt coverage, punt return, all those things ‘ positions where he has to run and cover space, but at the same time be physical and play in the open field and match up against other players of his size: linebackers, fullbacks, tight end types in the kicking game in those roles.
‘Trevor is smart, he works hard [and] he’s in very good condition. He’s a good athlete. He can run, he’s quick and he’s long, he’s got good length at the end of the line of scrimmage to handle some of those bigger tackles or the tight ends, the 6-5, 6-6 tight ends with the long arms, that type of thing. I think he’s done a solid job when he’s had the opportunity. We’ve had a lot of competition at those positions with Rob and Chandler [Jones] of course and Jermaine [Cunningham], Justin [Francis ], Jake [Bequette]. It’s been a very competitive position, but he’s done well when he’s had the opportunity. He’s contributed a lot for us in the kicking game.’
Here are a few other highlights from his Tuesday afternoon Q&A:
What has Nick McDonald brought to the team since he joined the team last year?
‘Nick came to the team last year after’¦he made Green Bay’s roster as a rookie and then after being released at the end of preseason last year, we started him on the practice squad, moved him up to the roster, he stepped in and played some games for us at center. This year, he was kind of slowed a little bit at the beginning of the season but has worked at all the inside spots, even played some tackle in preseason. He’s been a very versatile player for us. This year, most of his playing time has come at guard as well as some tight end situations in our bigger personnel groupings. But most of it has been at guard so he’s played really center, guard and tackle, all three positions for us, since he’s been here. That’s pretty rare for any offensive lineman to line up in all those spots. He’s done a good job for us.’
You added Markus Zusevics to the roster last week. We didn’t get to see him in training camp. Can you introduce us to him as a player and his strengths?
‘We didn’t get to see him in training camp either, other than jogging around in shorts. But, he just started practicing a couple weeks ago, as you know. [He] had a real good career at Iowa, got hurt last year at the Combine in February and really has been rehabbing pretty much up to the point where he was allowed to begin practicing a few weeks back. I think he’s worked really hard. He’s made good progress physically with his overall strength and conditioning. Technique-wise, he’s definitely behind, as you would expect, but he’s working hard to catch up on that. He played tackle in college [and] he’ll work there for us. He also has, possibly, the physical attributes to play inside at guard, similar to a Marcus Cannon-type of discussion ‘ similar but different. I think there could be a possibility of that, but his primary position has been tackle, so that’s kind of where he’s at for now. Hopefully he can get some reps in practice with the scout team and be able to improve the techniques of his game, because I think that physically he’s come along well. He just needs practice and live snaps and seeing things at the speed that we play at to improve. [If] he continues to work hard and pay attention to the little details, I think he could have a chance to help us at some point.’
Can you speak about Nick McDonald and Donald Thomas coming in and the fact that the offensive line play hasn’t slipped?
‘Well, Nick played quite a bit last week against Indianapolis for Dan Connolly  who didn’t play. Then this past week, Dan came back and Marcus [Cannon] played for Sebastian [Vollmer ]. So it’s really been all three of those guys, although Donald has played the most. Donald came with us last year, similar to the situation with Nick McDonald, except he wasn’t practice squad eligible, so Donald was on the roster from the beginning of the season. Nick started on the practice squad and then came onto the roster, but both of those guys joined us last year from other teams. They’ve both really come along and improved and given us good flexibility on the offensive the line, playing both guard spots and center. Both those players have played at all three positions in addition to Nick playing some snaps at tackle in the preseason, which he did in college. Their ability to pick up our system, to have versatility, work well with the other players and a combination of players ‘ whoever that happened to be, whether it was the tackle on their respective side or Wendy [Ryan Wendell] at center ‘ has been good and their level of play has been good. Marcus really got a lot of playing time in preseason and then when Sebastian kind of worked his way back into the lineup at the beginning of the season, then Marcus’s play time went from about half the game in Tennessee and dropped down and then Sebastian kind of regained that starting position. Then Marcus stepped in and played the whole game against the Jets last week and did a real good job for us there, in addition to throughout the course of the year doing some short yardage and goal line and multiple tight end-type sets where he’s kind of like Nick McDonald in some of those formations. Not really a high number of plays, but just added responsibilities for him. They’ve all done well. They’re all young guys in the relatively early part of their careers that have come in here in a variety of circumstances. All of them really missed training camp last year ‘ either they weren’t here or in Marcus’s case, didn’t participate in training camp last year. I think that the offseason program and their ability to go from last year to the offseason program to OTAs to training camp, that those players, all three of them, have improved significantly from where they were this time or even going back to September of 2011.’
It seems like there’s been a lot of moving parts and you’ve been able to plug guys in. I haven’t seen a lot of change in production, no matter who is in there. We saw that last year too.
‘Last year, as you know, we had more movement at center and right tackle. We had four different centers start games for us. Sebastian [Vollmer] played a little over half the season at right tackle ‘ maybe it was right around half a season ‘ and so Nate [Solder ] played quite a bit at right tackle and then Nate played some at tight end as well in those types of formations. Whereas this year, other than the Jets game, Sebastian has played in every game, although the first couple games he didn’t play the entire game and Marcus [Cannon] alternated with him in there. But for the most part, we’ve been pretty steady there at the tackle spots and with [Ryan] Wendell at center. We had a lot of competition at center in training camp but once the season started, Ryan has been consistent in there and Sebastian and Nate, for the most part, have been pretty consistent at tackle, like I said other than this Jets game. Where we’ve had a lot of movement really has been at guard, where we’ve had Logan [Mankins ], Dan [Connolly], Donald [Thomas] and Nick [McDonald] in there at times playing as well. It’s kind of similar to last year in that it hasn’t been the same five guys every game, but this year the changes have been more at guard and last year the change was more at center and right tackle for the most part. It’s like I said, similar but different the way it’s turned out.’
How do you characterize the Dolphins defense under the new coaching regime in terms of their style of play?
‘I think it’s probably most similar to the Cincinnati defense. [Defensive Coordinator] Kevin Coyle was there at Cincinnati with Marvin Lewis  and that scheme, of course, with Marvin kind of goes back to Baltimore and Pittsburgh. There’s a 3-4 element to it with some over and under, if you will, like the Bengals play. It’s a three-man line, but it’s a four-man line ‘ Baltimore, Cincinnati-ish. They run a lot of pressure, they do a lot of different blitz zones with their inside linebackers up on the line a lot. Again, like Cincinnati does, but that combined with edge pressure and it’s a combination of blitz zone with some man pressure with a variety of coverages. They don’t usually just sit in one thing all day; that’s not really their style. Of course, they have two very good edge players with Koa Misi and [Cameron] Wake . They have some big, physical inside players, like [Jared] Odrick and [Paul] Soliai, [Randy] Starks and a couple active linebackers, [Kevin] Burnett  and [Karlos] Dansby . I think personnel-wise they’re kind of similar to Cincinnati and scheme-wise, they’re similar to Cincinnati. George Edwards is their linebackers coach and of course he was there last year and was up in Buffalo prior to that, so he definitely has some background in the 3-4 and those types of schemes too. I think there’s a little bit of that influence as well.’