Zach Cunningham’s rookie season was a success last year. He had 90 tackles, started the majority of the season at inside linebacker next to Benardrick McKinney after Brian Cushing was suspended, and did more than just make tackles on the punt team. He displayed much better tackling technique than he did during his time at Vanderbilt. Yeah, Cunningham struggled at taking on guards one-on-one and he reacted to plays later than he should have, but overall, 2017 was a good year for Cunningham.
Time moves forward, and so does the progression of an athlete. Cunningham has spent this offseason growing a beard, living in the weight room, and bulking up so he can do things like stand up a guard with his punch and rip underneath to find the ball carrier or tackle Leonard Fournette and not allow him to fall forward for additional yards. Aaron Wilson wrote a story for the Houston Chronicle detailing what Cunningham has been doing all spring and summer:
“I’m all-in with the beard,” Cunningham said. “The guys joked on me about that. It’s something I randomly decided to do. I feel it. I like it a lot.”
Listed at 6-3, 234 pounds on the roster, Cunningham says he’s now up to 240 pounds after reporting at 229 pounds as a rookie.
Although Cunningham has built his game around his instincts and speed, he felt like he could be more physical as a run-stopper and blitzer by getting bigger and stronger.
“I feel pretty good about it,” Cunningham said. “I think I’ve gotten a lot better as a player. I’ve gotten a lot stronger. I feel pretty good about what I’m going to do this year.”
“I’ve been saying I want to improve as a player,” Cunningham said. “You take it a step at a time. Benardrick was the guy who stuck with me and helped me learn the defense and adjust to the speed of the game and mental part of things. I can still get tremendously better. I’m working on a lot of things, recognition and the mental part of the game.”
Read the article. Aaron did a nice job on it. There’s also more information on Cunningham’s progression as a player and O’Brien’s thoughts on his rookie season.