Marcus Cannon stepped to his left, powering out of his stance to practice his blocking techniques.
It was a repetitive motion for the Texans’ veteran offensive tackle, but it looked smooth. It was another example of the significant progress he’s made since starting training camp on the physically unable to perform list.
Since Cannon was activated and began practicing last week, the former New England Patriots starting right tackle has displayed how far he’s come since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery and recovering from a strained calf.
The Texans need Cannon to bolster the offensive line, especially in the wake of starting right tackle Charlie Heck sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19 on Monday.
If needed, Cannon could start the season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars at right tackle. The Texans are encouraged by what they've seen from Cannon so far. He could step in if Heck, who is vaccinated, doesn't test negative for COVID two days in a row this week.
The Texans could also shift left guard Tytus Howard back to his natural right tackle position and have Max Scharping and Justin McCray start at the two guard spots.
“Yeah, I mean there’s a reason why he’s a three-time world champ,” Texans veteran center Justin Britt said of Cannon. “But seeing him come back, he looks fresh as ever, bouncy, quick, fast, explosive. He looks like what you would expect of someone of his caliber and what he’s done in the NFL to look like at this point.”
A powerful presence at the line of scrimmage at 6-foot-6, 335 pounds, Cannon was obtained along with a 2021 fifth-round draft pick and a 2021 sixth-round draft pick from the Patriots this offseason in exchange for the Texans' 2021 fourth-round draft pick originally obtained from the Arizona Cardinals and a 2021 sixth-round draft pick.
So far, the Texans are encouraged by what they’ve seen from Cannon.
“He looked healthy,” Texans coach David Culley said. “He’s not ready yet in terms of the workload and that’s why this week will be very important. “He will practice, and we will see how much he can do.”
When asked if Cannon will start, Culley was noncommittal and said: “Not really sure yet.
A 33-year-old Odessa native and former TCU standout, Cannon missed the 2020 season as an opt-out due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
A former Patriots fifth-round draft pick, Cannon underwent treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2011. Having him on the roster creates flexibility across the line because Cannon is a proven swing tackle who can also play offensive guard in a pinch.
“It’s been great,” Cannon said. “There’s a lot of good guys around here. It’s a good staff and they have made sure I was doing everything to make sure I can get ready for whenever they need me. I’m just having fun.
When asked how close he is to 100 percent, Cannon replied: “I really don’t want to put a percentage on it. Really just taking it day-by-day trying to get better as fast as I can and do whatever I can to help this team. It’s a process. Just taking it day by day, there are little things. There’s some things that stick with you and there’s other things that you have to watch on film over and over again, work on every day, and just put the time and effort into getting back playing the way an offensive lineman should play.”
The Texans have Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil in place along with former first-round draft pick Tytus Howard at right tackle. Cannon should provide a leadership role as the oldest offensive lineman on the roster.
A former All-Mountain West Conference selection, Cannon was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 after a biopsy was conducted at the request of two NFL teams. The mass was ruled as benign, but was found to be cancerous. After undergoing treatment, Cannon has been in remission every year.
“Over the years I’ve been through this process of coming back,” Cannon said. “ I just really lean on the staff and kind of whatever they tell me to do, whenever they tell me to start running full speed, I do what they say. They’re professionals. We have a great training room staff and our sport science department is one of the best. They’re tracking everything I’m doing: how much I’m running, how much I’m lifting, checking my gains and losses in the training room, weight room, all that.
“So, there’s a good group of people that I have around me and I’m kind of just listening to what they’re saying. I’m listening to my body and telling them how I feel and we’re working together. Whenever they think it looks good and whenever I feel good enough, that’ll be when I’m the best.”
Cannon has started 69 of 115 career games. He's due $4.7 million nonguaranteed base salaries in 2021 and 2022. Cannon has an $800,000 incentive for playing time, up to $1.5 million in per-game active roster bonuses at a rate of $93,750 per game along with $850,000 in not likely to be earned incentives, a $100,000 weight bonus and $58,460 total workout bonuses.
In 2022, Cannon has the maximum $1.5 million per game active roster bonus, $1.65 million in not likely to be earned incentives and $150,000 in total workout bonuses.
Playing for a veteran offensive line coach in James Campen, Cannon is playing for a former NFL offensive lineman. Cannon has a background with a venerable offensive line coach: retired New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.
“Definitely, there’s carryover, but he has a different approach, different style,” Cannon said. “Both are great. I love the way he coaches. It’s a plus that he was a player. That’s awesome. As an offensive lineman you couldn’t ask more than for your coach to have played the game, because in some ways he understands how we’re feeling and how we’re thinking. I’m not saying he knows what we’re thinking, but he knows how we’re thinking. He takes all of that in when he’s trying to coach us and teach us certain things. It’s awesome being able to play for him and so far I’m really enjoying it.”
The owner of three Super Bowl rings, Cannon carries valuable experience and knowledge to impart to his younger teammates. Cannon isn’t quite sure where his Super Bowl rings are at the moment.
“That’s a good question,” Cannon said. “I don’t know, that’s kind of embarrassing. I have no idea. I’m looking for the next one. They’re not even in Houston. I think they’re in (storage) or something in Fort Worth, possibly.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.