Sunday’s news that New England Patriots starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is likely headed to injured reserve due to a multitude of injuries – most notably a hip – puts the spotlight on the team’s third player at the position: Marcus Cannon. He is projected to replace Vollmer as the starter at right tackle during the veteran’s absence.
Cannon has a lot of starting experience, more than your typical backup tackle. Over the course of his five-year career, he appeared in 65 regular season and 12 postseason contests, starting a combined 23 games. However, there is a reason why Cannon has not yet been able to challenge starting tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer: his play when on the field was uneven.
Last year in particular, Cannon’s inconsistency was on perfect display. After Solder was lost for the year due to injury, Cannon was inserted into the starting lineup as a left tackle. However, a toe injury forced him to miss four games and subsequently switch sides. While he was serviceable in that role in 2013, his 2015 season was up and down.
The toe injury certainly contributed to Cannon’s performance issues, as did the general inconsistency on the offensive line caused by position coach Dave DeGuglielmo’s constant personnel changes on the interior and the fact that the veteran tackle played with a sloppy technique especially against speed rushers like Denver’s Von Miller.
Seven months after the Patriots’ season ended, Vollmer’s injury puts Cannon back in the spotlight and back into a starting spot. However, the circumstances appear more favorable this year: the 28-year old is back at full strength and might benefit more than any other player from the return of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who coached Cannon from 2011 until 2013.
Over that timespan, Cannon became a solid rotational tackle for the Patriots. And if his first two weeks of 2016 preseason play are an indicator, he might finally get back on track again. Let’s take a look at the film to find to see what Cannon is doing well and what he and Scarnecchia can still improve.
Cannon, given his frame and strength, has always been a better run blocker than pass protector. However, his technique has been inconsistent the last two years and he was unable to get the initial push needed to be an effective road-grader in the running game.
During the first two games of the 2016 preseason against the New Orleans Saints and the Chicago Bears, Cannon’s technique looked improved. As a result his play was more consistent as it looked as if the 28-year old was playing with more confidence and trust in his own abilities.
1-10-NE 26 (:34) L.Blount up the middle to NE 33 for 7 yards (T.Porter; J.Freeman).
The following play is a good example for the offensive tackle using his technique to block successfully.
Cannon (#61) places his hands well to get leverage and consistently stay in a position to move the defender away from the running lane. Due to him placing his hands neither to high nor too low, the five-year veteran is able to keep his balance throughout contact.
While doing that, Cannon also gets a good grip, not allowing defensive end Mitch Unrein (#98) to disengage and potentially tackle running back LeGarrette Blount (#29). This ability to sustain blocks is something he has struggled with last season.
1-10-NE 37 (5:34) L.Blount right tackle to NE 38 for 1 yard (J.Laurinaitis; O.Gwacham).
Cannon did not only look good this preseason playing in man-blocking schemes, he has also shown ability to move well and perform in zone-blocking concepts (i.e. the offensive linemen do not just block the players opposite them, they move in a predetermined direction, blocking whoever is in their path). In the first quarter against the Saints, this was on full display:
While the play gained only one yard due to a breakdown caused by right guard Shaq Mason (#69) moving too far towards the tackle, Cannon displayed some nimble feet and a good first step. He was able to generate a solid upfield push and kept his legs working through initial contact. This, in turn, would have given Blount and fullback James Develin (#46) solid space to operate.
While the two plays above are only a small snapshot of Cannon’s work in the running game this preseason, they do paint and encouraging picture: he has the abilities to be a successful blocker, he just needs the consistency. So far this preseason, he has been consistent and limited breakdowns to a minimum.
The same can also be said about Cannon’s performance in the passing game – at least to a certain degree. While he also looked far more consistent in this area than he did just a year ago (and eight months removed from the above-mentioned toe injury), not all was perfect. But, as is the case in the running game, Cannon looks improved on an overall level.
1-10-NE 12 (8:54) (Shotgun) J.Garoppolo pass incomplete deep right to M.Bennett (K.Vaccaro).
Probably the two biggest improvements in Cannon’s pass blocking compared to last year are his positioning and his patience. In the past, he often dropped either too deep, giving defenders a chance to a) build more speed and b) get past him on inside-moves, or too hastily, which in turn led to a sloppy technique set-up.
On the following play, Cannon does neither and consequently looks more in control of the entire situation:
The offensive tackle does not overplay one side – inside gap or boundary – and drops back patiently and with good leverage. Due to his solid footwork and sliding motion, he is able to consistently mirror defensive end Bobby Richardson (#98). This allows Cannon to set up his block properly as he does not have to rush through his movements.
3-2-NE 20 (1:12) (Shotgun) J.Garoppolo pass short left to M.Bennett to NE 26 for 6 yards (J.Freeman).
The improved consistency when it comes to position and patience visible in the first passing situation was also on display the next week against the Bears:
Besides perfectly mirroring linebacker Lamar Houston (#99), Cannon also uses his long arms well to slow the defender down and keep him at a distance. He also shows some really good leverage and footwork in the process.
1-10-NE 35 (14:31) J.Garoppolo pass short right to C.Harbor pushed ob at NE 39 for 4 yards (L.Floyd).
Cannon’s improved technical consistency is mostly on display when it comes to his movement in space. However, it can also be seen during more hands-on blocking situations like countering the bull rush:
Just like he did in the first running play we looked at, Cannon is able to get a solid initial hold of the defender by placing his hands well and being able to keep his feet under him due to playing with a sound pad level. This, in turn, allowed him to sustain his block while taking advantage of his frame and strength.
There is a point when the defender seems to get the better of Cannon, as he is able to push his upper body back a little, but tackle is able to keep his balance. Cannon displays some excellent lower-body strength and recovery skills in the process.
While Cannon’s overall game did look improved this preseason, he still suffers from some inconsistencies in technique and communication. At times, Cannon has some problems with setting his feet properly when sliding over. He also needs to get better awareness of inside and spin moves by improving his positioning and not overplaying one side. Both issues are correctable through coaching, though.
The 28-year old also has to work on his chemistry with the right guard, especially when it comes to stunts or pass-overs. There were consecutive plays in the Chicago game, when Cannon and right guard Josh Kline were not on the same page. Given the injuries suffered by Shaq Mason and Jonathan Cooper, Kline looks like a realistic option to open the season as the starting right guard, so he and Cannon need to keep improving their communication the next two weeks.
Overall, though, Marcus Cannon has played a solid 2015 preseason as both a run blocker and a pass protector. He seems to benefit from the coaching change and, more importantly, the fact that he is back at full strength. While not all is perfect and the preseason is too small and unreliable a sample size to properly draw conclusions about the upcoming regular season, Cannon’s last two games looked encouraging.