Breaking Down Marcus Cannon’s Fit in New England

Marcus Cannon Patriots

Will the Patriots 5th Round selection pay off in 2013?

NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas

Back in 2011, the New England Patriots invested a fifth-round draft selection in a big Texas Christian offensive tackle named Marcus Cannon. The 6’5”, 340-pounder was a first team All-Mountain West selection who garnered All-American honors from Sports Illustrated, Pro Football Weekly as well as Rivals.com.

It was a high-value pick for New England. That said, it was also a high-risk one. Cannon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma leading up to the draft. If it weren’t for medical concerns, the Odessa, Texas native would have likely been a Round 2 or Round 3 choice.

Instead, the Horned Frog arrived in Foxboro and spent the start of his rookie season on non-football injury list while recuperating from chemotherapy treatment. He regained enough strength to take part in the final seven games of that 2011 regular season and wound up taking home the Ed Block Courage Award.

In his second year, Cannon registered work in all 16 contests while serving as Sebastian Vollmer’s primary backup at right tackle. He saw limited action and logged a total of just 175 offensive snaps, according to FootballOutsiders.com. That number was the second lowest of all Patriots offensive lineman who saw the field in 2012.

It has been speculated that Cannon lacks the nimble footwork and aggressiveness against pass-rushers to be a full-time tackle in the NFL. In turn, the thought of his well-built frame lining up inside at guard — where he played just 12 downs in 2012 (per Rotoworld.com) — is an intriguing one.

There may be some fire to go along with that smoke, too. ESPNBoston.com’s Mike Reiss tweeted that Cannon saw reps at right guard during organized team activities.

Although he may have a future at guard, it’s important to assess where Cannon stands at his current position. Cannon did get an opportunity to start at tackle when Vollmer’s back and knee injuries resurfaced last year. It was Nov. 22 versus the Jets. And yes, it was the “Butt Fumble” game.

Dusting off the old NFL Game Rewind, I was able to jot some thoughts down on Cannon’s extended action. How did he fare? What should we expect from here on out?

Patriots versus Jets, Week 12

- Restrains outside linebacker Calvin Pace on a four-man zone blitz, but Tom Brady gets pressured from left edge and is called for intentional grounding.
- Makes initial run block on 3-4 defensive end Bryan Thomas before disengaging to bounce Pace away from making a tackle on Stevan Ridley.
- Misses block on Pace, yet gets upfield quickly in anticipation of screen pass and pancakes a would-be tackler.
- Shoves Pace back into second level on a Ridley cutback run.
- Maintains low pad level versus Pace on a single-back run to the left.
- Merges right on play-action misdirection to left, fails to get more than one hand on a Jets defender.
- Falls down trying to block low on 3-4 defensive end Mike DeVito.
- Battles Pace around the arc but lets him close in, which forces Brady to run up into pocket and throw into back of end zone.
- Linebacker David Harris blitzes, brushes past Cannon’s inside shoulder and hurries Brady’s throw.
- Pushes Pace upright outside of the hashes and knocks his helmet off while Ridley runs up gut.
- With two tight ends to his right, Cannon blocks lackadaisically on a toss left to Shane Vereen.
- Untouched by a down lineman, Cannon pursues the linebacker and parlays Vereen into next level.
- Five-technique fakes out and cuts between center Ryan Wendell and right guard Dan Connolly. Meanwhile, both Connolly and Cannon block the free safety blitz as linebacker DeMario Davis swings around edge and shrivels Brady’s pocket.
- Displays good lateral agility as a pulling tackle, swinging right and blocking Antonio Cromartie on a Ridley rushing attempt.
- End of game gets sloppy as the Patriots’ lead expands. Cannon does manage to finish strong, even though his opponents couldn’t manage the same.

Post-Game Takeaways

In that Week 12 tilt, Cannon played every single offensive snap as well as eight on special teams. It was far and away his most encompassing workload as a pro. And for the most part, he held his own against the lengthy Calvin Pace and the stout Mike DeVito.
Albeit a very small sample size, Cannon showed some good quickness for a man of his stature. He clearly has tools to play both inside and out.

No. 61 is, however, tough to gauge for a multitude of reasons. He is quite effective in his blocks, yet he can also look very lax in the process. At times Cannon waits for the contact to ensue before fighting back. In addition, he has moments of indecisiveness as he searches for his assignment.

Taking the good with the bad, Cannon could still develop into an NFL starter. He’s a physical specimen who would only improve with more reps. He might come off as a quiet giant, but he does have a little bit of a mean streak in his play.

Future Outlook

Will Cannon kick to the interior to help out Dan Connolly and Logan Mankins, or will he remain Vollmer’s understudy? At this point, one would believe his future lies wherever he is needed. When the time calls for it, head coach Bill Belichick has been known to utilize guards at tackle and tackles at guard — just ask Nick McDonald.

As we know, the more you can do around Gillette, the better. Positional versatility is a critical component to making a football team. Not only is that true for an unproven player entering his third NFL campaign, but it’s also true for a player who has to outlast half of the 14 other offensive linemen duking it out in camp.

At 25 years old with two years left on his rookie deal, Cannon is facing a crossroads in his growth. If he is to stick at his natural position of tackle, his long-term role in New England would still likely be a backup one. If he is to convert to guard permanently, then the learning curve would be greater but the upside of seizing a No. 1 spot could be as well.

Ultimately, there is something to be said for a player who has the athleticism of a tackle and the girth of a guard. Those two characteristics cannot be taught, even if the teacher is renowned offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.

Cannon may not be the top-50 prospect he once was projected to be during his redshirt senior season. Nonetheless, he is still of use to a football team like the Patriots. The question is: in what facet?

Tags: 2011 NFL Draft, Marcus Cannon

8 Responses to “Breaking Down Marcus Cannon’s Fit in New England”

  1. Stephen S says:

    Just a thought does Cannon overtake Connolly at the Guard spot leaving Connolly as the backup Guard/Center
    Also another good article that had a few good points/insights 1 on Harmon 1 on Boyce and 1 on Harrison here
    http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/extra_points/2013/05/film_study_nfl.html for anyone who didn’t see it

  2. MaineMan says:

    I agree that a one-game sample isn’t much to go by. Also, the Jets DL overall didn’t seem as effective or strong last season as they had in recent prior seasons and Pace was showing his age. Still, pretty much winning his day against those guys wasn’t a terrible “debut” at all for Cannon.

    Seems to me that the “gamble” part of the pick has been resolved. Even if Cannon doesn’t improve in leaps and bounds from what he showed in 2012, he was already playing much better than a typical 5th-rounder – his pass pro seemed at least adequate and his run-blocking seemed very good. He also may already be a bit better than Kaczur was, and the Pats did pretty okay with Kaczur holding down RT until Vollmer came along. Cannon may never be as good as Vollmer’s best, but I’m pretty confident that he’d be able to hold down the RT spot for an extended period without creating any significant weakness on that side.

    I also agree that Connolly’s play was a bit off from what it had been the previous two seasons. He may have been playing hurt, though, as he did have shoulder surgery in February. Connolly’s contract runs through 2014 (as does Cannon’s), so if he bounces back this season and the rest of the OL starters stay healthy, Cannon may not get many opportunities. Still, if the Pats had significant doubts about Cannon being a starter-quality backup for OG and RT, I think they would’ve made more effort to retain Donald Thomas in free agency. Also, given the Pats’ projected cap and free agent situations coming up in 2014 (2014 is the contract year for several key starters and the Pats are already fairly close to the cap, based on other current contracts), it seems to me that there’s a distinct possibility that Cannon graduates to a full time starting role, probably on the interior unless Vollmer’s health fails, before his own rookie deal is finished.

  3. JMC says:

    Cannon is ok and was a good pick on the 5th round but the Patriots could have both Peter Kouz and Barret Rudd on this roster- for whatever that’s worth-

  4. Ryan says:

    My thoughts on Cannon are very mixed. All gambles certainly don’t pan out. While I want him to pan out, but if he is taking someone’s position I think we would have seen something by now. It says something about his OT ability that they kept Zusevics. Personally, I can see Connolly as a cap casualty. I will say this, I don’t think Wendell will get any competition at C. He played very well and I think he will only get better. It said something they let Koppen walk, and look at the season he had last year.

  5. Ray Foley says:

    Given Connolly’s play from last year, I’d like to see Cannon given a shot to start at right guard.

  6. Russell Easterbrooks says:

    I like Cannon at OG, better than OT, and if Mankins or Connolly gets hurt, look for Cannon to do a nice job.

  7. CC says:

    Keep him looking to backup both Guard spots and eventually take over full time for Dan Connolly.
    If Connolly gets put in at Center due to an injury for Wendell, Cannon takes Connolly’s spot full time at Guard anyways.
    *Keep him working on Tackle fundamentals-But Mac him out as a future long term L & R Guard “Both” on the regular. Depending on who’s a better future Draft choice at Guard When Mankins is eventually gone( a Top Tier Left “OR” Right Tackle Drafted, can leave Cannon taking the other side over.






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