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.