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Stew Milne/ US Presswire
While the Patriots seem likely to retain most of the 2013 team for next season, the interior of their offensive line could see a major overhaul. Ryan Wendell, a 16 game starter each of the past two years at center, has not been contacted by the Patriots about a new contract despite his impending free agency. Wendell burst on the scene in 2012 with a fantastic season, particularly in the running game, but the team seems to have grown tired of putting up with his struggles in pass protection.

Wendell's linemate, right guard Dan Connolly, could also be on the move. With only $7.3 million in projected cap space, the team will be looking to trim the fat from their budget. They'll open up $3 million in space if they decide to cut Connolly, a 31 year old guard whose performance dipped in 2013. Given the factors at play, the Patriots will likely have not one but two spots to fill in the middle of their line.

While this isn't an ideal situation, the Pats do have an intriguing in-house option to fill one of those spots: Marcus Canon. Canon has played right tackle in his three years in New England, but he was considered a better prospect at guard in the 2011 draft. In fact, most projections had Canon going in the second round as a guard until about a week before the draft, when Canon was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphona. This medical red flag caused Canon to fall all the way to the fifth round, where the Patriots appeared to get a great value pick.

Canon came back strong from successful chemotherapy treatments, becoming the Patriots top backup to the excellent but injury-prone Sebastien Vollmer. However, Canon's performance in relief of Vollmer this year was somewhat inconsistent. While Canon has had some solid games, he struggles at tackle when matched up against the speed of some of the league's better pass rushers, as shown by his -1.9 grade for 2013 on ProfootballFocus.

None of this should be surprising. Canon had an exceptional career at TCU playing tackle, including a successful move to left tackle his senior year, but most scouts thought he'd likely end up playing guard at the pro level due to questions about his foot speed. Canon is a good athlete for a man of his size (the Patriots flatter him by listing him as 6'5", 335), but his game is still clearly based on power far more than speed.

A move to guard would certainly seem to help Canon play to his strengths more. His athleticism may be slightly below average for a tackle, but it's an asset at guard, which is important because New England's scheme calls for a lot of pulling and second-level blocking. Canon's size and strength could help him turn into a mauler in the running game, one the Patriots have emphasized more and more in the past two seasons. His pure size could bring a new dynamic to a line that has occasionally struggled with big, physical defenses (they are probably still having nightmares about Terrance Knighton).

Canon's pass protection could also benefit from the move inside. Instead of facing physical athletic freaks like Charles Johnson (the subject of Canon's infamous leg whip), Canon would likely spend most of his time blocking bigger, slower defensive tackles. He wouldn't find himself mismatched athletically nearly as much as he was at tackle, and would instead be able to rely largely on his strength and power to help keep Tom Brady clean.

All of this is contingent on the Patriots deciding to cut Connolly and save his salary, but the presence of Canon should make the move an easier one to make. Canon has the potential to be very good at guard, and would likely be an upgrade over the struggling, aging Connolly. He's also inexpensive, due a $743,968 cap hit in the final year of his rookie contract. Not only would the Patriots upgrade their line with the switch, but the money saved could go towards free agency (possibly to Patriots free agents Aqib Talib and Julian Edelman).

The Patriots wouldn't be out of the woods yet with this move. Switching Canon to guard would weaken their depth at offensive tackle, where they'll face the challenge of coaching up prospects without Dante Scarnecchia around for the first time in 30 years. The team would also still have to fill the center spot, where it wouldn't surprise me if they try to draft a potential starter in the middle rounds (a la finding Dan Koppen in the 2003 fifth round).

However, a successful transition from tackle to guard makes sense on paper for both Canon and the Patriots. It would give the Patriots two excellent tackle/guard combinations, with Nate Solder and Logan Mankins on the left side across from Canon and Vollmer on the right. If the Patriots can find a solid center to fill Wendell's spot, they could very well use this reshuffling to turn a weakness into a strength again.

Ned Brady 2/24/2014 01:45:00 PM Edit
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