Cunningham to play huge role on defense

Freshman Jermaine Cunningham came to Florida with a repetition of having quick feet and a nose for the football. He recorded a pair of quarterback hurries on key fourth down plays late in the game that helped lead his Stephenson High School team to a 6-0 victory over legendary rival Southwest DeKalb.

Cunningham is expected to play a huge role in a rebuilt Florida defense and understands that there is much to do before the Gators season opener.

“We have a couple of key players from last years defense with Derrick Harvey and Tony Joiner that we can learn from,” Cunningham said. “But, for the most part, since we’re so young, we’re all learning together. We’re just getting on the same page. We still have a long way to go. I have a lot of work to do.”

Cunningham (6-4, 235) worked with the first unit, opposite senior Clint McMillan and made several plays that caught our attention. Two sacks of quarterback Tim Tebow when the Gators were working on their hurry up offense helped the defense remain close in the scrimmage session that is scored on a point system.

Just ask reserve left tackle Jason Watkins, who saw extensive playing time for starter Phil Trautwein on the first unit, as the coaches continually work to provide quality reps for non-starters. Watkins struggled early and often against Cunningham, who comes off the ball very well. It’s that first step that gets your attention when watching Cunningham.

The Stone Mountain, Georgia native had immediate success when the first team defense began drills against the second team offense. On the second play from scrimmage, Cunningham got pressure on quarterback Cam Newton. He ran by Watkins, who was initially working with the second group. Cunningham then blew up a running play that lost yardage for Chevon Walker. A few plays later, he exploded around right tackle on the snap and corralled Walker in the backfield. However, he didn’t wrap Walker up and he darted and dodged his way outside for an 11 yard gain.

“I don’t think that I did too good,” Cunningham said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “I’m trying to go hard and make plays. I have to work on cut blocks, reading my keys better, and working on techniques, so that I’m more fundamentally sound.”

He’ll have one week and a long summer to grow and improve. His weight is up to 235 and obviously he has not lost any speed over the past year. Still- he wants much more.

“Like I said, I’m nowhere where I want to be,” he said. “I have a lot of work to do. One thing that I want to do is gain some more weight. My goal is to be around 250.”

Defensive end Jermaine Cunningham still has plenty of room for improvement, but his performance during yesterday’s Florida scrimmage clearly demonstrated his big play potential. He hopes to have further improved on those skills in the next 18 weeks and put them to practice before the season opener.