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.
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.
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?