Newsday caught up with Jets assistant coach Mike Devlin on Tuesday at the youth football clinic he's staging at Mt. Sinai High School this week for a story in today's edition of Newsday. But Devlin, who coaches the tight ends and serves as an assistant to offensive line coach Bill Callahan, also took time to discuss the prospects of two rookies who likely will attract considerable attention during training camp in August -- second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse and undrafted free agent tight end Jeff Cumberland.
The parents of some of Devlin's campers (see devlinfootballcamps.com for more info) still were raving about Ducasse, one day after his Monday appearance with the Jets' offensive rookies. At 6-5, 330 pounds, the offensive lineman out of the University of Massachusetts, is an awesome presence. Some consider him a project because the Haitian native got a late start playing high school football in Stamford, Ct. and his college experience was at the I-AA level.
But the Jets liked him enough to let 12-year veteran Alan Faneca leave as a free agent and give Ducasse a chance to win the starting left guard job in a competition with second-year man Matt Slauson of Nebraska. Devlin, who was an offensive lineman with the Buffalo Bills and comes out of the OL factory at Iowa, offered a glowing review of the untested rookie.
"I saw strength, speed, athleticism, and he's powerful," Devlin said of Ducasse. "I think Ducasse and Slauson both have proved they're really on track. They're both strong, powerful, quick."
Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and all-NFL center Nick Mangold each praised Faneca for the knowledge he brought to every situation, but Devlin said those two now must serve as mentors for Ducasse and Slauson. "Faneca did it for them, and now, it's time for them to do it for one of these two guys, the rookie or Slauson," Devlin said. "Being sandwiched between those two great players can only benefit them. It's tough to crack the offensive line as a rookie, but athletically and physically, Ducasse and Slauson really have those tools. It's a matter of experience."
Ducasse has the physical bases covered because of his speed and quickness to go with his size. But offensive line is a thinking man's position, and it's the mental part that likely will prove most challenging. "Here's what people have to realize," Devlin said. "Our defense is the toughest defense I've ever seen in coaching.
"When you go against our defense, you're learning every day at an accelerated rate. When you coach, you have a teaching progression, A, B, C. Not against our defense. You've got to go straight to Z and try to block it up. His experience will be accelerated by facing our defense in practice."
As for Cumberland, an Illinois product listed as 6-5, 249, Devlin believes the Jets turned up a hidden gem when they signed him after the draft. He suggested that Cumberland was overlooked because he played at wide receiver for three and a half seasons in college until moving to tight end midway through last season.
"He absolutely has a shot," Devlin said of the rookie's prospects to make the team. "I see a 6-5, 260-pound kid that runs a 4.4 40-yard dash and is pretty tough. He's really working hard. I like his progression so far."
Veterans Dustin Keller and Ben Hartsock are ahead of Cumberland on the depth chart, but even if he doesn't make the active roster right away, he could make the practice squad and develop for a year.
He showed good hands in the Jets' recent public workout, and he has the size to turn into a powerful blocker in the running game. "He's one of those rare guys that could be both," Devlin said. "I mean, he's 260 pounds and he can run and he's strong. He has some special tools if he continues to work hard. He's going to push somebody."