Patriots' Malik Cunningham flashes potential at quarterback in preseason debut

Malik Cunningham's preseason debut certainly wasn't ordinary.

It began with him playing receiver. He ended taking snaps behind center.

The Patriots' undrafted rookie completed 3 of 4 passes for 19 yards and ran five times for 34 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown run through the middle of Houston's defense late in Thursday's contest. Cunningham's athleticism was on full display on the run, making two defenders miss and barreling through a defender across the goal line.

"It feels good. I mean tough player, I'm a team player, so whatever the coaches need me to do, I'm going to do it for the team," Cunningham said afterward. "That's what happened, coach told me to go to quarterback, and we had no touchdowns, so I told the O-line, the whole group, that we were going to go down and score and that's what we did."

Cunningham's versatility shouldn't come as a surprise. He spent his collegiate career playing quarterback at Louisville, but in order to improve his chances of sticking on an NFL roster, he's been taking reps at both positions with New England. His talent propelled the Patriots to their only touchdown of the night, and provided fans with a few highlights to replay from the preseason opener.

New England is stocked at quarterback with a couple of young quarterbacks in Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe, who have each seen starting snaps in their careers. Jones is the presumptive top option, sitting out of the Thursday night affair while Zappe handled the bulk of the work. Four-year veteran Trace McSorley is also on the roster, and might have to battle for a roster spot if Cunningham continues to flash his potential in preseason action.

Cunningham, meanwhile, will continue to work at both receiver and quarterback. Coach Bill Belichick is no stranger to using receivers as passers, turning to former Kent State quarterback and longtime Patriots pass catcher Julian Edelman to throw an occasional pass during his 11-season career in New England.

"Is it difficult?" Cunningham said when asked about handling the duties of two positions. "No, I feel like I'm a very clever, smart kid and the coaches have been doing a good job with me, explaining, breaking it down, helping me learn. The quarterbacks, the receivers, all those guys have been nothing but help to me, so I appreciate them."

Cunningham could fill a similar role, provided he makes the final 53-man roster. He's certainly off to an encouraging start.

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