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Thursday, August 28, 2014
On O-line, best 5 or best combination?

By Mike Reiss

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In charting the offensive line combinations utilized by the New England Patriots this preseason, it sparks a question that has probably been asked in team headquarters: Do we go with the best five players or the best combination?

The reason this is asked is because of four-year veteran Marcus Cannon.

There is little doubt from this view that Cannon is one of the team's best five linemen, and his value to the team has increased this year as he's worked more at left tackle. It's just that the position in which he excels most -- offensive tackle -- is well stocked with Nate Solder (left) and Sebastian Vollmer (right) locking down the starting spots.

Cannon. as a top backup, gives the Patriots a very strong 1-3 top of the tackle depth chart, with rookie Cameron Fleming (fourth round, Stanford) being groomed behind the scenes. That's a promising position group.

But the Patriots' pressing questions, as have been chronicled throughout training camp and now have drawn even more attention following the Logan Mankins trade, are at the interior spots.

Cannon could factor into that mix, as we saw last Oct. 13 against the Saints when he subbed in for Dan Connolly, who sustained a foot injury that day. But Cannon hasn't played guard in a preseason game and, from this view, doesn't seem to be as effective at the position as he is at tackle (he struggled at times in 1-on-1 blocking drills while at guard in training camp). Cannon might be one of the Patriots' top five offensive linemen when he's viewed through the lens of a tackle, but I'm not sure that would be the case if he's at guard.

It's an interesting dynamic when balancing an individual player's talent against the complete five-player snapshot, and why Cannon's usage in tonight's preseason finale warrants a closer look.