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Welcome Zach Cunningham, LB

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  • #46
    Read the post on Jo Jo and saw the Cunningham could come crashing down and hit like that cat....we would have something special there...unbelievable...and pumps out 40 reps...thats one strong **** that loves contact and to LAY THE WOOD!!


    • #47
      McClain said Cunningham is "the most decorated athlete in Vanderbilt history", that Belichick came and worked him out (in case they got their 32nd pick from NO for Butler), that everybody in Nashville says nothing but great things about his character.
      In 2016 Brock Osweiler was rated last (32nd) among all QBs (>400 attempts) by ProFootballFocus and ranked 33rd/34 QBs (>200 attempts) by Football Outsiders.


      • #48
        its great that he's a good guy and is a great character, and love that he finds his way to the ball and is willing to tackle....its the way he tackles that bothers me...everything is a drag down, arm, or a tackle made by swinging the guy to the ground...thats just not how I like or want my LB to be attempting tackles.


        • #49
          Football 101: Cunningham’s speed and explosion

          John HarrisTexans Analyst
          In the summer of 2016, there were a handful of future NFL prospects that I looked forward to studying closer. There was one, though, that intrigued me more than others because I, admittedly, knew very little about him. Unfortunately, I didn’t focus too much of my efforts on Vanderbilt football during the 2015 season. The ‘Dores were 4-8, didn’t go to a bowl game, and, on the surface, didn’t really have much worth watching.

          The lone exception being this young linebacker I didn’t know much about.

          Zach Cunningham.

          As a sophomore in 2015, Cunningham was Vanderbilt’s leading tackler by 39 total stops. He garnered 1st Team All-SEC in a conference that featured Alabama’s Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster, among others. That got my attention to start. When I looked up his bio…

          6-4, 230 lb.

          Hold up, that’s outside linebacker size and dimensions, but the tackle numbers told a different story. So, I was confused, yet intrigued as I could be to really lock into my study on the Vanderbilt star.

          Then, I turned on Vanderbilt’s defensive tape in 2015 and found out real quickly how the pieces all fit together. It still took me a few snaps to convince myself that he was truly an inside linebacker, but there was no way a guy this productive, in this conference, could not be one.

          As such, in my annual SEC Preview in 2016, I wrote this about Cunningham.
          “Different build for an off the ball linebacker…I promise you he played the season at 225 lb. or less…long and wiry build…think Telvin Smith (Florida State/Jaguars)…when offensive linemen get their hands on him, he has trouble not getting tossed…that’s the rub, though, they have to get to him…ultra-quick and light on his feet…runs very well, wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in the 4.5 range…wow, he can fly to the football…quick to diagnose and find the ball…patient enough to read his keys and trusts his speed to get him to the football…plays deep and downhill at all times…packs a punch…hits everything downhill…speed to match receivers”
          My overall assessment was as follows
          “I love Cunningham. He can fly and I’ve seen him do things at linebacker that no other player in this class can do. I’m not sure that he could handle the pounding at MLB in a 4-3, but as “run-hit” LB in a 3-4, give me some, right now!”
          Trust me when I said a “run-hit linebacker in a 3-4”, there was one team I selfishly had in mind. The one that selected him.

          After his 2016 season, though, he was no longer a mystery to anyone. He was a first-team All-American, first-team All-SEC and the first Vanderbilt player ever to earn unanimous first-team All-American honors.

          There was little he didn’t do in 2016, including the highlight of all highlights when he leapt over the Auburn field goal unit to block a field goal. The ‘Dores trailed by seven at that moment in the fourth quarter and a field goal would’ve given Auburn a two-score lead late in the game. Cunningham took flight over the center, blocked the kick and gave his offense a chance to tie. It didn’t, but that play will never be forgotten by anyone that saw it.

          He will never be able to replicate that success, as that has been outlawed by the NFL competition committee, but that’s not why the Texans drafted him. They drafted him because they’ve rarely ever had a linebacker with his ability to go sideline to sideline. His speed and explosiveness were on display in the team’s most important win of the year at Georgia. In that game, he made a handful of plays that helped turned the tide of the game, but two in particular.

          The first one came early in the first half. Earlier in the game, the Georgia offense had exploited Vanderbilt on the speed sweep with blazing fast Isaiah McKenzie. Keep in mind, McKenzie ran 4.42 at the combine. With the success from earlier in the game, Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Cheney went to the well again.

          It was 1st-and-10 at the Georgia 38-yard line.

          Cunningham is aligned over the center as Georgia aligned in an unbalanced formation. McKenzie was originally aligned to the left side of the formation and went in motion.

          Georgia, essentially, pulled the entire line to the outside to give McKenzie a convoy to the edge. The Bulldogs certainly had Vanderbilt outflanked and it didn’t look good for Vanderbilt at the snap.

          McKenzie had three pullers and running back Nick Chubb leading the way, but keep an eye on the pulling guard No. 53. He had eyes for Cunningham and at the moment, the guard had the angle on Cunningham…

          Cunningham, though, picked up ground on the guard when the guard decided to turn up. As such, the Georgia lineman tried to cut Cunningham. He threw properly at his thighs and attempted to knock Cunningham off his feet. But, with perfect form and technique, Cunningham put one hand on his helmet and one his shoulder and bench pressed the lineman right to the ground.

          Without slowing down one step.

          With help from his magnificent safety Ryan White who fought off the block of Chubb, Cunningham was able to finish the tackle on McKenzie for a gain of only two yards a few feet away from the sideline.

          That design, with McKenzie’s speed and the blockers out in front, should’ve gone for much more than two yards. However, Cunningham’s speed to run down a 4.42 receiver, with a running head start, brought that play to a halt.

          The second play happened late in the fourth quarter. Vanderbilt was hanging on, by the slimmest of threads, to a one-point lead with one minute left in the game. The Bulldogs offense faced a 4th-and-1 just outside their kicker’s field goal range, so they decided to go for it.

          They aligned star running back Chubb as a fullback behind quarterback Jacob Eason.

          Eason called McKenzie back into the backfield, creating an I formation with Chubb. Cunningham was “mugged” up in the A gaps, expecting a dive handoff to Chubb.

          Just prior to the snap, tight end No. 83 Jeb Blazevich went in short motion to crack block on Vanderbilt’s end man on the line of scrimmage. It was crack toss with Chubb leading the way.

          Center Brandon Kublanow had the responsibility on Cunningham. Look closely at the picture and you can see that Kublanow had no chance from jump. Cunningham recognized the play from the outset and beat the Georgia center off the ball. All Kublanow could do was try to slow Cunningham in any way possible. So, he grabbed him, nearly tackled him, in the middle of the fray.

          Cunningham broke through that feeble attempt and had eyes for McKenzie. The Vandy star wove his way through the trash and could see McKenzie headed his way.

          Needing one yard, but nearly three yards from the marker after aligning in the backfield, McKenzie would never get that yard. Cunningham tracked him down and made the tackle.

          As Lattimer told the Georgia Tech running back in the movie The Program...

          YOU DIDN’T MAKE IT!

          That was tackle number 19 in that upset win at Georgia. Nineteen tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and one pass breakup. I don’t need to tell you that’s an incredible performance. Vanderbilt was 2-4 to that point and that win kick-started a “four-wins-out-of-the-last-six-games” run that sent Vanderbilt to a bowl game once again.

          Cunningham is far from a finished product, but what he offers this magnificent defense is something that’ll be fun to watch in the near future.
          In 2016 Brock Osweiler was rated last (32nd) among all QBs (>400 attempts) by ProFootballFocus and ranked 33rd/34 QBs (>200 attempts) by Football Outsiders.


          • #50
            This pick reminds me of DeMeco Ryans. Ryans had no business falling to the 2nd round. Cunningham had no business falling that late into the 2nd round. Potential steal.


            • #51

              John McClain @McClain_on_NFL
              Texans signed ILB Zach Cunningham, their second-round pick.
              In 2016 Brock Osweiler was rated last (32nd) among all QBs (>400 attempts) by ProFootballFocus and ranked 33rd/34 QBs (>200 attempts) by Football Outsiders.


              • #52

                Zach Cunningham knows the expectations from the Houston Texans to get on the feild in 2017.
                The Houston Texans took Zach Cunningham from Vanderbilt with their second-round selection and already like what they see from the rangy inside linebacker. Cunningham showed his movement skills during camp in pursuit drills and chasing down the football sideline to sideline, an attribute the defense has not had in the middle for sometime.

                Cunningham, along with the rest of the rookies at camp, has jumped feet first into NFL football 101. He is keeping his nose to the grindstone, trying to soak up as much as he can from him coaches and new teammates.

                “Just pretty much coming together and the team concepts,” Cunningham said of what he is learning. “Getting to start getting to know the people around you, getting to know the players that you’re coming in with and the players that are going to be on the roster.”

                O’Brien went in-depth on what they liked about Cunningham and approves of what he has seen from him during rookie mini-camp.

                “We saw a guy at Vanderbilt that was a productive guy, but with all due respect to Vanderbilt, this is a whole different ball game. So, he’s coming in here. He’s learning our system. He’s a guy that’s athletic. He’s a hardworking guy,” O’Brien commented. “He needs to come in here and go to work just like every other rookie. He’s a good kid – hardworking guy.”

                Cunningham led the SEC in tackles but had 21 missed tackles in 2016 and 34 during the past two seasons for the Commodores. The Texans attribute his missed tackles to the lack of upper body strength and intend to help him correct it.

                “He needs to spend a lot of time in the weight room. He’s got a long way to go, but we see, obviously, potential there. Potential is a dangerous word,” O’Brien said of Cunningham.

                Cunningham acknowledged the clear message sent to him about getting strong and that is what he intends to do.

                “Definitely one of my biggest goals would be, like they talked about, living in the weight room,” Cunningham explained. “That’s definitely what I’m looking forward to.”

                It is clear that the Texans are looking for an impact from Cunningham on defense and special teams. Getting him on the field in year one is a priority for the Texans and getting Cunningham caught up with what the defense is asking him to do will be work ahead for both him and the Texans.

                Bleeds Texans Blue Red and White Blood.


                • #53
                  The Eyeball Test: Scouting The Texans’ 2017 Draft Class
                  by Matt Weston/BattleRedBlog
                  Zach Cunningham

                  On the defensive side of the ball, “tweeners” have enamored the NFL. Safeties that can play linebacker. Linebackers that can play safety. Defensive linemen that can play outside linebacker. Linebackers that can play defensive end. This has allowed defenses to be malleable and less reactive. They can keep the same personnel on the field no matter the formation. Their players can maximize their strengths against players specialized so far in the other direction.

                  Cunningham is this type of player. He’s a linebacker who can play safety. Houston has needed someone like him for awhile now. No longer will Brian Cushing or Benardrick McKinneybe stuck in nickel or dime, only to get torched by running backs out of the backfield. When Houston loses to New England again this year, it won’t be because Dion Lewis and James White are catching passes and zipping around McKinney. No longer will the Texans have to play Eddie Pleasant as a nickel linebacker and get scrounged up on inside shotgun runs. Cunningham fills an immediate need and covers issues this defense has faced for a few years now.

                  The hook Cunningham sticks into your gum is his speed and ability to chase down and tackle. He’s at his best when he’s unblocked and running after others. He has safety speed and the ability to outrun running backs. Against Georgia Tech, the opposing offense is running a toss play to the right. Cunningham is supposed to be blocked by a pulling offensive lineman. When the lineman dives to make his cut, Cunningham leaps over him, continues moving at top speed, and spins the back down for the tackle.

                  In the box, this is how he stops offenses. He doesn’t stand up blocks or really use any moves to disengage. He plays far off the line of scrimmage, accelerates, and simply runs past blocks to make plays.

                  By playing in the box, Cunningham maximizes his strength—his speed, because he’s using it against staggering and slow-moving guards and centers. His best quality is up against the offense’s worst. Vanderbilt took advantage of this in a variety of ways. They played him at every linebacker position. They loaded up on the defensive linemen playing directly in front of him.

                  My favorite was this. Here he’s lined up behind a middle linebacker and is playing in between linebacker and safety depth. This allows him to read the play, gives him space to get to full speed, run past blockers, and sprint into tackles.

                  On this play, he runs right past the tackle like he’s slalom skiing, leaving the tackle beating the grass with his fist, while the back is down around the line of scrimmage.

                  The majority of time, this is what happens. It’s Cunningham playing in different linebacker positions, running past blocks, and making tackles.

                  On the off chance that Cunningham is actually blocked, he has only one move to get away from it. He’ll hold his ground and use a swim to get over the top of the block to get away. It works well. He’s pretty good at it. It’s how he survives when he does get blocked.

                  The problem here is Cunningham’s tackling, and it’s an enormous concern. It’s not something you can gloss over or just expect for him to get better at. Cunningham doesn’t wrap up. He’s a grabber, yanker, and puller. He’s one of the worst tacklers I have ever seen.

                  The other problem is Cunningham doesn’t consistently hit ball carriers head on. He aims outside with his eyes closed. This leads to a lot of misses and weak contact.

                  Here he comes off the block. Instead of coming into the back’s body, he leaps and makes contact early. His head is on the outside. His arms slide off the back’s torso. The back enters the open field and picks up ten extra yards.

                  Cunningham’s tackling issues are at the college level against lesser competition. His inability to tackle is going to be compounded when he tries to bring down backs like DeMarco Murrayand Leonard Fournette. Cunningham has to learn how to hit ball carriers head on and wrap up, putting the barrel on the ball and creating collisions instead of soft tosses. All of this yanking, pulling, and diving is going to be a mess when he plays in the NFL.

                  Still, Cunningham is a good player, and this was a great pick. Houston needs speed at the inside linebacker position. He’s a perfect fit in that regard. Houston ranked 28th in DVOA at covering running backs and they needed someone with Cunningham’s skill set. By adding Cunningham, Houston now has speed at the second level of the interior in base defenses and strength in nickel formations. It’s going to be so much fun to watch Cunningham stunt, blitz, and run around an open field with J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney, Benardrick McKinney, and others soaking up blocks for him. Tackling is an issue. It’s a legitimate concern, and not some forgotten callus hiding under the couch. Cunningham has to get better at it. If he does, he will be an integral part of the Texans’ defense and future iterations of it.
                  In 2016 Brock Osweiler was rated last (32nd) among all QBs (>400 attempts) by ProFootballFocus and ranked 33rd/34 QBs (>200 attempts) by Football Outsiders.