By Trey Gregory
Baylor is playing the best football I have ever seen them play. Their vaunted passing attack is as pristine as ever and the run game is operating more efficient than it has in the past. I am impressed with Kendal Briles’ play callinge. Baylor is displaying the same innovation that launched them to the top of the national rankings but showing more balance than in the past. It’s also hard to find much to complain about with this team. As well as they’re playing, though, there is one glaring problem I see that needs to be addressed.
The problem I see is less about how the overall team is playing, but is about just one player in particular: KD Cannon.
Cannon exploded onto the scene last year with big play after big play in clutch moments. Cannon finished his rookie season with 58 receptions for 1030 yards, 8 touchdowns and averaged 17.8 yards per carry.
It’s safe to say expectations were very high for Cannon in 2015. So far, I think he’s been more of a liability than an asset.
As of week six Cannon has 20 receptions for 324 yards, three touchdowns and is averaging 16.2 yards per carry. Nowhere near the production of Corey Coleman, but still not too bad.
My problem with Cannon isn’t his stats, but it’s the way he’s playing.
Ball security is my biggest concern. When Cannon is on kick return duty or after he receives a short pass, designed to turn into a bigger gain by making defenders miss, he holds the football like it’s a dirty diaper. It’s like he doesn’t believe he can be quick and shifty unless his arm is stiff, stuck in a J-shape at his wrist, with as little contact on the ball as possible.
Cannon already has four fumbles, one for a loss, but he should have more. There have been multiple plays where the ball was slipping out as he was going down and he basically got lucky he didn’t fumble. This is absolutely unacceptable.
Cannon also has a visibly obvious bad attitude on the field. He often seems more concerned with jawing back and forth with opponents than he is with being focused on the game.
His body language is also atrocious. Watch the sideline after a play where he doesn’t get the ball, he isolates himself and slumps over in apparent self-pity. As if he honestly believes he’s so good that he deserves the ball on every play.
I think that, essentially, is the root of Cannon’s problems. He got too big too fast and bought into his own hype.
Cannon doesn’t need to secure the ball, because he’s so good that he doesn’t have to. He has a bad attitude when he doesn’t touch the ball because he’s so good that he should always touch the ball. Finally, opposing players better not challenge him, because, he’s KD Cannon. Don’t they know they’re wasting their time? They do after two minutes on the field with him, because, he told them with his mouth instead of his play.
I understand that football is an emotional sport, and I don’t mind if players get worked up during a game and talk a little trash. In fact, I wish every player on my favorite sport teams played with the fire that Richard Sherman shows every week. The difference between a guy like Sherman talking on the field and Cannon, is that Sherman executes almost every play perfectly.
Cannon has had multiple dropped passes that he would have caught last year. He also seemed more eager to go out and prove his worth last year. Ego over passion leads to personal fouls for unsportsmanlike behavior, special teams errors like running the ball out of the end zone when the defenders are at the Baylor 15 or turnovers.
This may seem like an overreaction to some. After all, Baylor has won handedly in every game so far and Cannon has made a handful of very good plays. The reason it’s not an overreaction is because this could come back to haunt the team down the stretch.
So far, Baylor has played championship caliber football against non-championship caliber teams. That means they can make some sloppy mistakes and still win without ever being seriously challenged. That may not be the case against a team like Oklahoma or TCU. It certainty wont be the case if Baylor makes the College Football Playoffs.
Every mistake hurts a team and could cost them the win in big games. A guy who believes ball security is below him isn’t an asset to the team at all, but a complete liability.
With all of that being said, I have a hard time placing all the blame on Cannon. He is a young man and his accomplishments are magnified. Most of us would probably have an enlarged ego if we were in his shoes. What I can’t figure out is why Art Briles allows this behavior to continue.
I certainly don’t know more about football than Art Briles. He knows that turnovers and selfless attitudes are keys to winning or losing a game. I don’t know what goes on at practice after Cannon pulls these kinds of stunts, but I do know he hasn’t improved six games into the season. I also know I don’t see everything that transpires on the sidelines during a game, but I haven’t seen any staff go up to Cannon and try to correct his attitude or give him even a slap on the wrist after almost fumbling the ball. I also know Cannon hasn’t been benched, which is right where I believe he belongs until he fixes himself.
Recruitment is always in the mind of a college football coach. Maybe Art Briles believes he will lose future recruits if he is too harsh on his players, but I say good riddance. There are countless stories of gifted athletes who fail because their ego got in the way. There’s just as many stories about less gifted athletes who buy in, work hard, have a great attitude and become champions because of it.
I am excited about Baylor football’s 2015 campaign. I have evaluated this team to the best of my ability and believe they can compete with any team in the NCAA, but that doesn’t mean the work is done. The defense still has to improve sealing the edge and keeping contain, Seth Russell could do a better job scanning the field and not starting down receivers and the entire team could clean up their play to get less penalties. All those things are to be expected, to some degree, with a college football team though. What’s unacceptable is an out of control player who becomes a liability.
KD Cannon has the potential to become one of the best receivers in the nation, and I hope he does. However, in order to accomplish that, Cannon and the coaching staff need to continue to work with him to make him a better player and man on and off the field.
Follow Trey on Twitter @Trey_Gregory