For Patriots' Cannon, it's a confidence game

For Patriots' Cannon, it's a confidence game

FOXBORO – The athleticism is there. The intelligence is there. The desire to succeed is there. The power and size are most definitely there.

Why, then, does news that Marcus Cannon is the Patriots right tackle, for better or worse, have so many people fearing there’ll be more worse than better?

Probably because the cherry on top of the Patriots' 2015 season included Cannon getting turnstiled in Denver during the AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady getting beaten a merciless beating and the Patriots losing a chance at a seventh Super Bowl appearance thanks -- in large part -- to their inability to block anybody that day.

There was plenty of blame to go around. A lot of it was heaped on Cannon. It’s hard to say he didn’t deserve it. Regardless of the crowd noise, the talent of the Denver defense, whatever nagging injuries Cannon may have had or the fact he’s been a vagabond offensive lineman for five seasons, he had a bad game in a big game.

What’s confounding is that, a week earlier, he had a great game in a big game. In the AFC Divisional Playoff against the Chiefs, Cannon was a silencer on the right side of the Patriots offensive line. Singled out by the Patriots coaching staff for his work neutralizing Kansas City’s pass rush, Cannon had reason to feel good going into Denver.

And then it went to hell.

Bill Parcells once said that, “Confidence is only born of demonstrated ability. A team's collective mental state is ruled by the psychology of results. In other words, past outcomes dramatically affect the group's attitude going into the next game. A team teaches itself what it is on the field, in action."

Bringing Parcells' theory to a finer point with regards to Cannon, why didn’t the “demonstrated ability” he showed against Kansas City carry over into Denver?

A theory – my theory – is two-fold. First, Cannon’s been a vagabond offensive lineman for the Patriots for four seasons and has never gotten to a point where he feels completely secure.

Second, he hates to fail because he knows the negative attention that will then follow. Criticism doesn’t roll off Cannon’s back. It puddles. It weighs on him. It impacts him. And, when things don’t go well, moving on may be a bit harder because there could be a sense of, “Here we go again and I’m gonna be the guy that gets singled out.”

On Monday, Cannon spent nearly 10 minutes speaking with media that clamored to get his feelings on being the next-man-up in place of Sebastian Vollmer.

Hands behind his back, smiling, this was a player who doesn’t like the probing doing his level best to be candid and open.

"I've learned a lot. After five years, you learn a lot," Cannon said. "You learn good, you learn bad about yourself. This whole situation, this job is always is always a learning process. You come in every day and you practice. You watch the film and learn what you did good, what you did bad."

A left tackle at TCU, Cannon’s played all over the offensive line for New England. Asked about that, he answered, "Wherever they want you to go, they have trust in you and you trust them. That's what it is. If they want you play, that must mean they have trust for you to play in that position, wherever they put me."

Gingerly, I tried to ask Cannon about the inconsistency in his game. How one week he can be a world-beater and the next week beaten down.  

"To be good, you have to be your own worst critic," Cannon said. "Watching film, you always see something good, something bad."

Having butchered the initial question a bit, I tried to be more direct and asked Cannon if confidence was sometimes an issue for him. He stared hard at me and ended the interview.

The Patriots remain firm in their belief Cannon is worth betting on. They didn’t draft a tackle this season, even though Sebastian Vollmer is -- at 32 -- entering the final year of his deal. Their confidence in Cannon is unquestionably part of that.

“He’s had a good camp,” said Bill Belichick. “He has played other positions, can play other positions, but I think this [right tackle] is his best position. All of those other moves are really part of another -- wasn’t the idea of like ‘We need to move Marcus’. There were other circumstances and because of his athleticism, his intelligence, his versatility, a lot of times he was the guy making the move. But I think we’ve got him in a good spot now.”

Belichick was asked about how an offensive lineman has to meld the mental and physical aspects of the game.

“They’re both important,” he answered. "If you go out there and miss a couple of assignments then those are the kind of plays that will get you beat, too. Look, it’s all important. Everything is important. In the end you have to make your judgment based on the whole composite of the player.

“I think the play [Cannon] had in the Bears game where they blitzed the corner, or it was the slot defender, the nickel defender, and he came all the way extended out and got him . . . (those on-the-fly adjustments) don’t happen on every play, but when they happen you’ve got to get him if that’s your assignment. Look, he’s a smart guy. I don’t think learning has ever really been an issue for him; experience maybe a little bit.

Which brings us back around to confidence being borne of demonstrated ability. The longer Cannon does it, the better he’ll be and the less he’ll have to worry about a bunch of know-nothing, sofa scouts including him on their “Stiff of the Day” list.

With Vollmer down, Cannon will have ample opportunity to shut everybody up. And maybe then he get some peace and quiet around here.

Patriots release Shea McClellin

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Patriots release Shea McClellin

Shea McClellin will be blocking kicks for somebody else next season. 

The Patriots announced Monday they've released the veteran linebacker, ending his tenure with the team after two seasons.  ESPN's Field Yates broke the news.

The Pats signed McClellin to a three-year deal prior to the 2016 season, but that was the only season in which he played for the team. McClellin missed all of last season due to injury. Prior to coming to New England, McClellin played four seasons with the Bears, who chose him 19th overall in 2012. 

McClellin's biggest contribution with the Pats came when he blocked a Justin Tucker kick in Week 14 of the 2016 season against the Ravens.

Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

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Pinning down the best lesson Vince Wilfork could teach Danny Shelton

When the Patriots traded for Danny Shelton earlier this offseason, sending a 2019 third-rounder to Cleveland in exchange for the defensive tackle, they traded for a player who was already being mentored by one of their own. 

In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Shelton explained that one of his agents put him in touch with former Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork so that Shelton could pick up some tips from one of the best defensive tackles in football of the past 15 years. 

"For me, he’s someone that I still look up to even when he was with the Texans," Shelton said. "I got the opportunity to reach out to him and kind of pick his brain and just learn a couple of tips from him. He’s been really responsive. He’s been a guy that has been really helpful this offseason and I’m looking forward to reaching out more and learning some more from him."

When Shelton was coming out of the University of Washington in 2015,'s Lance Zierlein's "NFL comparison" was Wilfork. Both carried similar builds -- Shelton is now listed at 335 pounds -- and both were viewed as surprisingly good athletes for their body types. Shelton was also viewed as the top two-gapping tackle in the draft that year, which is exactly what the Patriots ask their interior linemen to do. 

Shelton has made good on those projections over the last couple of years. Last season, he was a key part of a Browns defense that ranked fourth against the run by Football Outsiders in terms of DVOA. In 2016, Shelton was ranked by Pro Football Focus as its eighth-best interior lineman against the run. Per PFF, he was second that year -- behind only Damon Harrison -- in terms of the number of run stops he recorded from the interior.

It's clear that Shelton, the No. 12 overall pick three years ago, understands what his strengths are. 

"Honestly, I’m just going to go with whatever Coach [Bill Belichick] wants me to do," Shelton said. "My best feature is stopping the run, so if he wants me to play at a specific position I’ll do it, and I’ll make sure I do my job for the team’s success."

So how can Wilfork help? If he has any tips on how to be a consistent player from the inside in Belichick's system, that could go a long way. Over the course of Wilfork's 13-year career, few defensive tackles were as effective from week to week and year to year. Wilfork played at least 830 snaps in four of his last five seasons with the Patriots (he was injured in 2013), and even during his two seasons with the Texans, he averaged about 600 snaps per year. He made five Pro Bowls with the Patriots and was named a First or Second-Team All-Pro four times.

In what form might Wilfork's advice on consistency be delivered? Would it be nutritional, which was an aspect of his preparation he embraced later in his career? Would it be technique-based? Would it be simply how to take the coaching dispensed inside the walls of Gillette Stadium? 

Shelton, who missed two games last season and played in 469 snaps, doesn't have a long-term contract with the Patriots to be able to prove his worth over multiple years the way Wilfork did. And he may not be asked to take on the myriad roles Wilfork was during his time under Belichick. But if Shelton can pick up some advice from Wilfork on how to stay on the field and how to help the Patriots win on first and second downs, that might make him the team's most valuable offseason addition. 

New England finished the season 20th in rush yards allowed per game, and they were 31st in yards per attempt allowed. In the Super Bowl, with run-stuffing defensive tackle Alan Branch a healthy scratch, the Patriots allowed 6.1 yards per carry to the Eagles on their way to 164 yards rushing. 

Shelton is in the final year of his rookie contract and scheduled to make $2.03 million this season. The Patriots may not be willing to pick up his hefty $11.7 million fifth-year option for 2019, but if he can continue his upward trajectory then maybe the Patriots will work to extend him before the end of the year. 

How Wilfork impacts that trajectory, if at all, remains to be seen. But he's certainly not a bad guy for Shelton to have in his corner as the 24-year-old embarks on life with the Patriots.