It did not go unnoticed that starting left guard Matt Slauson was replaced by third-year backup Vladimir Ducasse for several plays of the Jets’ 27-10 loss Sunday in Pittsburgh. Ever since he was drafted as a second-round project, the 6-5, 325-pound Ducasse has been viewed as a candidate for the “bust” label.
During training camp, there was a so-called “competition” between Ducasse (pictured) and Slauson for the starting job, but as soon as Slauson agreed to take a pay cut, the coaching staff named him the starter. The fourth-year lineman out of Nebraska might not be overpowering, but his competence on the job is clear. So, Ducasse’s insertion into the lineup raised some eyebrows.
Slauson declined to discuss what happened after the Steelers game, referring questions to the coaches. Head coach Rex Ryan explained it this way when asked if Slauson had been injured: “Matt wasn’t hurt. We’re giving an opportunity to Vlad to play. We do the same thing on defense. You saw Demario Davis in there some, you see Josh Mauga, you see the defensive line rotation. If you have a good football player, you should use him. I think Vlad’s earned that right to play some.”
That begged the question about whether there is once again a competition for the starting job at left guard. “I just said we’re going to play everybody,” Ryan said. “If a guys’ up [on the active roster], there’s no sense not playing a guy if he has earned that right.”
As for Ducasse, he takes reps with the starters for part of practice every week, but he understands there’s nothing like game experience to help a player improve. “Me getting those reps is going to help me get better as we go along the way, just getting better as a football player and trying to see different stuff,” Ducasse said. “Getting better in practice is one thing, but seeing the game and feeling the game is another thing.”
After watching tape of the Pittsburgh game, Ducasse felt good about what he accomplished. “I felt pretty confident,” he said. “There were a couple of things I could have done better. But I’ve made a lot more improvement than the last few years.”
In terms of quickness, strength and overall conditioning, Ducasse said he’s in the best shape of his life. After bouncing around his first couple of years between tackle and guard, he settled in at left guard during offseason activities and says he’s comfortable now even though guard play tends to be a little more complex than tackle.
"The closer you are to the center, the more calls you have, obviously, but it’s no complication,” Ducasse said. “Everybody is on the same page. I listen to what the center is saying. Everything is fine.”