It’s Marcus Cannon’s time to shine.
Bill Belichick even said so, though not in so many words.
Last week when there was still some question regarding whether the Patriots would be able to re-sign starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, Belichick was asked about Cannon’s development. “He’s improved tremendously as a player,” Belichick said of Cannon. “The opportunities he had to play early in the year, and even later in the year, he showed that improvement in games as well as the practice field.”
Asked if Cannon could be a starter, Belichick said, “That’s up to him.”
That’s as good an endorsement as you will hear in Belichick-speak. But now that Vollmer is back in the fold, Cannon finds himself once again a man without a position. In 2012, he played in every game, spelling Vollmer at tackle mostly, but at 6’5″ 340 pounds, the powerful 3rd year TCU product is probably an even better guard.
So the question – one of the few questions with one of the best offensive lines in football – is whether Cannon projects as a starter at right guard, supplanting incumbent Dan Connolly, or is his versatility too valuable in backing up both Connolly and Vollmer that he remains the top backup by design?
It’s an interesting and favorable issue to have. Connolly has nothing to prove, nor does Vollmer, nor does center Ryan Wendell, left guard Logan Mankins or left tackle Nate Solder, so until one of them goes down or needs a blow, the chances are that Cannon remains top shelf depth on perhaps the largest and technically proficient offensive line in the NFL.
So with it being true that the most fundamental rule in all of football when building a team is that, to be successful, prudence dictates that you build from the inside out, meaning put together an offensive line and a defensive line as cornerstones to the units, then add pieces until completion – then it is also true that this cornerstone that the Patriots have in place on the offensive line is indeed rock solid.
Though the team was able to keep it’s starting lineup intact by re-signing Vollmer, the depth of the line took a hit when guard Donald Thomas earned himself a nice payday in free agency with the Indianapolis Colts, leaving only versatile Nick McDonald as the only interior backup to Mankins and Wendell…
…which is an issue because the free agent pool for guards is very shallow, and the draft class isn’t much better after the top two are off the board, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to reach for one, but what about drafting a center in the 2nd or 3rd round, one that has the versatility to play all three interior line positions?
With Depth at left tackle having been addressed with the signing of Will Svitek and developmental 2nd year man Markus Zusevics already on the roster, even a third round pick may be too much to dedicate toward the line, but if a talent such as Barrett Jones were to fall to the end of the 2nd round or even if ultra-versatile Wisconsin interior lineman and Logan Mankins look-a-like Travis Frederick was still available in the third round, it could cause some war room anxiety.
Of course, Jones is famous for giving his Quarterback at Alabama a shove when A.J. McCarron got in his face during the National Championship Game, but they did the warm and fuzzies on the sideline just in time to celebrate their title – but this illustrates the fire and nasty streak in Jones, a trait not lost on offensive line coaches such as Dante Scarneccia. Jones has a firm anchor and is actually capable of playing any position on the line and is equally adept at easing into pass protection or looking for someone to pancake at the second level in the run game…and when he latches onto a defender, they’re done on that play.
Frederick comes from a program that consistently pumps out superior offensive linemen and, as such, has a top shelf football IQ and could very easily step right in and be the anchor that this line expects from it’s center, and has all the nastiness required of an interior lineman – and the wicked awesome Daniel Bryan-esque beard just accentuates the perception…has a high character, is very coachable and loves mixing it up.
The need for tackle depth is not as pressing, but if a kid like Arkansas Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead is still on the board in the second round, things could get interesting. An incredible athlete, good enough to be a tackle-eligible pass catching threat, and provides a solid barrier for defensive ends to try and get around, mirroring moves as well as any tackle in the class. He is a player that could contribute immediately in the event of injury to either starting tackle.
The Patriots are in excellent shape on the offensive line overall, however, and it would be a stretch for them to pursue a lineman with any of their first three selections, but with Belichick doing such a fine job in free agency, he has the luxury of selecting the best athlete available in any need position in the draft…
…and this is Bill Belichick we’re talking about here…