Move over, Leonardo — there’s a new renaissance man and he happens to be plying his trade in Duval County.
Viewed by fans as a potential weak link in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ blocking armor heading into the season, fourth-year right guard AJ Cann has been a pleasant surprise. Jeff Lageman even went so far as to say that he outperformed first-team All-Pro teammate Andrew Norwell (who played very well) on his “Check the Tape Tuesday” appearance on the Jaguars Today radio program this morning.
It has been well documented to this point that the impetus for Cann’s vastly improved technique is the NFL’s new emphasis on the helmet rule. Simply not dropping his head and keeping his eyes on his target with perpendicular positioning from the ground has largely rectified Cann’s previous balance issues and has mitigated his habit of blindly thrusting his upper body at defenders. Add these adjustments to an augmented offseason dedication (Cann has been training with teammates Cam Robinson and Jermey Parnell at offensive lineman guru Duke Manyweather’s training facility in Forth Worth, Texas), and you don’t just have a better player.
You have a brand new player.
Enough heaping of praise, let’s see examples of Cann’s new-and-improved technique.
You’ll often hear the term “anchor” with offensive linemen, and it’s something Cann was inconsistent with thus far in his career.
When Cann would drop his head, it caused his shoulders and his momentum to move forward, and all of a sudden, he was bending at his waist rather than with his knees. Another pass blocking facet that Cann has seemingly improved is his “mirroring” ability, which stems from good footwork to get his body ahead of the rush move and maintain balance.
Cann had a habit of getting his feet stuck in the mud last season, and so far in 2018, he seems much lighter on his feet, allowing him to absorb more bull rushes and smother power-to-speed stacks.
Another nice pass block rep by AJ. Teeth to the bull, light on his feet with good ability to mirror. pic.twitter.com/IPl3PPImrZ— Filip Prus (@JaxonFil) August 28, 2018
Cann had a poor 56.2 PFF grade as a run blocker last season, and a big issue for his ineffectiveness was his inability to drive his legs and create ample push to reach and create a seal for the runner. Cann was also not extending his hands and relying too much on his strength and size rather than technique.
By timing his strike better and utilizing his core and and quads to create push off the snap to maintain leverage and seal off rush lanes, this should create more room for the ball carrier this season.
Cann had a bad habit of leading with his upper body and not seeing what he was hitting. This caused his center of gravity to go forward as he reached for the defender, causing him to lose balance. Cann was on the ground way too much last season. pic.twitter.com/IjXJQ0Phhf— Filip Prus (@JaxonFil) August 28, 2018
And of course, the play that got many Jags fans excited. Fournette is able to cut back because Cann stays perpendicular and generates momentum from his knees to drive back defender. pic.twitter.com/Q1yRAE6usC— Filip Prus (@JaxonFil) August 28, 2018
Cann short pulls on the off tackle run, looks at what he hits this time and creates an enormous seal for a big gain. pic.twitter.com/Ct2OSuKmR3— Filip Prus (@JaxonFil) August 28, 2018
If the Jaguars want to generate more explosive plays, whether in the run game or manufactured through screen passes, Cann must be more adept at matriculating into the second level to neutralize opposing linebackers.
There is no second level, however, if the runner can’t get past the first level, and too often last season Cann failed to make deliberate contact with the lineman immediately across from him.
This allowed the defender to suffocate space into the backfield and essentially take away the ability for the runner to use his vision. If Cann sufficiently punches and advances with urgency this season, Leonard Fournette should greatly increase his 3.9 yards per carry average.
Cann has also improved chipping and accelerating to the second level. This is a rep where he doesn’t make sufficient contact on the chip and loses balance by the time he hits the Titans LB. pic.twitter.com/dVAaDpMawS— Filip Prus (@JaxonFil) August 28, 2018
Cann looks more sudden in his acceleration this year and show more urgency with emphasis on balanced leg drive through contact. pic.twitter.com/0fo341Db0V— Filip Prus (@JaxonFil) August 28, 2018
For Cann, a renewed commitment to the game comes at a perfect time in his career. Entering the final year of his rookie deal, there is no doubt that Cann’s ears perked upon the announcement of Patriots right guard Shaq Mason’s new contract extension (five years and $50 million). While Cann isn’t exactly broke — he’s earning a $1.9 million base salary in 2018 per Spotrac — a potential raise to $10 million per year is certainly an intriguing carrot in a healthy financial garden for interior offensive lineman. Mason is a very good player, but a strong 2018 campaign from Cann could garner enough momentum to drive into Mason’s financial neighborhood.
When you add Cann’s impressive availability — he started 51 games in four years at South Carolina and 44 games in three years with Jacksonville — he becomes an even hotter commodity.
It’s only three games in preseason, I know, but if Cann can play in even the same stratosphere of Andrew Norwell and Brandon Linder on the interior, this run game can absolutely take off in 2018.
If it does, Leonard Fournette may need to splurge on something a little more extravagant than Louis Vuitton bags after this season.