For all the talk about Nate Solder's poor play in the first two preseason games—and Solder looked much better against the Buccaneers—Marcus Cannon has actually been the worst of the two tackles. And right now, the right tackle spot is easily the weakest link on the Patriots offensive line.
Outwardly, Brady is expressing confidence in his offensive line (per WEEI.com):
"Of course, I have confidence in everybody. Just a matter of time of getting out there. Too many time one step forward, 2 steps back." Brady— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) August 25, 2012
But no one would blame him if he were concerned, at least a little bit, about the struggles this line has shown thus far.
Luckily, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is returning from the physically unable to perform list, but his recent string of back injuries raise questions about his ability to play a full 16 games; the condition has affected him since last season and caused him to miss 12 of the team's 19 games.
Backup or not, Cannon could end up starting at some point.
Buckle your chin strap, Brady; it could be a wild ride.
It may be the preseason, but Cannon has had three consecutive bad games in a row. Cannon only contributed significantly in one game during the 2011 season—Week 16 against the Miami Dolphins, where the right tackle gave up a hit and three pressures (per Pro Football Focus) as the Patriots got off to one of many signature slow starts in 2011. They failed to score any points in the first half partly because Brady had no time in the pocket.
As of Friday night against the Buccaneers, that trend has continued into the 2012 preseason.
Brady's been leveled both times he's suited up. There will always be that heart-stopping memory of Brady nearly being chopped in half by Saints defensive end Will Smith, but tonight, the beating he took from the Buccaneers defensive line was more prominent and persistent than in his previous appearance.
The quarterback was taking some blame after the game.
“It was just hold[ing] on to the ball too long," Brady said of the sack fumble forced by Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett (via ESPN). "Brandon [Lloyd] was starting to work away from the coverage and they just got me as I was throwing the ball. Have to try to eliminate those and try to eliminate turnovers, they certainly kill us. Those just aren’t very good plays."
This preseason, Cannon has given up 16 pressures and has been at fault for 2.5 sacks. On the night, he gave up three pressures and the sack fumble of Brady, all within the first half alone.
It could be debated whether of not Cannon is a better fit at tackle or guard, but head coach Bill Belichick said he thinks Cannon is best equipped to play tackle.
"He’s big, he’s strong, he’s in good condition [and] he’s got the feet to be able to play out there in space," Belichick said (via Patriots.com). "It’s the position he played in college; he has a long history of playing there. [I] think he can play the spot."
Belichick took the same stance on left tackle Matt Light upon his entry to the NFL; many questioned where he was best suited to play, but Belichick stuck by his guns and kept Light at tackle. As of yet, Cannon is as far from Light as it gets.
Fortunately for all parties involved, there is some cavalry left to be called in.
Right guard Donald Thomas has looked solid thus far, but the Patriots will also be getting some stability back if and when former All-Pro right guard Brian Waters returns. With Waters and Vollmer back at right guard and right tackle, respectively, four-fifths of New England's starting offensive line from last year would be back—with the switch of Light and Solder at left tackle being the only exception.
As for Vollmer, his value is on the rise, and he's not even on the field. When he gets to that point, the focus will then be on his ability to stay there.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained first-hand.