Eric Weeks, TheJetsBlog.comVladimir Ducasse, now in his third year with the Jets, is hoping to make the strides that he hadn’t in previous years whether it be as a starter or back-up and he isn’t wasting his opportunity.
In three seasons, Ducasse has started one game, but the Haitian-born big man has impressed Ryan during training camp and the preseason, and could be in consideration to open the season starting at left guard.
“There’s no question that Vlad’s pushing for that,” Ryan said after Wednesday’s practice. “I think this is where you wanted him when you drafted him. You might’ve wanted him a year before, but this is where he’s at now. He looks pretty good to me.”
Ducasse, 25, said that while he would’ve liked more opportunities in the past, it is not something that bothers him now. Where he was drafted is not a concern and neither is what position he plays or even if he starts. He just wants to play. He just wants to be the difference-maker he was drafted to be.
“Over the years, I’ve definitely gotten more comfortable,” said Ducasse. “The more comfortable I’ve been, the better I’ve played. If the opportunity to start presents itself, I’m gonna go and grab it.”
There’s no denying Ducasse had the physical attributes to succeed coming out of UMass, but the mental aspect was something completely new to him. Revisionist historians tend to leave out the fact that he had arrived in the United States from Haiti at the age of 14 and began playing football late at Stamford High School–all the while barely speaking a lick of English.
While he was able to rely largely on his size at Stamford, college ball presented him with another transition which included more emphasis on technique. At UMass, he did find success earning first team All-CAA honors for his dominating performances at left tackle as a junior and senior and catching the attention of NFL scouts.
He was still raw. The main knock against him was his technique which to that point was still inconsistent and a move to guard seemed to be the general consensus at the next level while he refined his game. Todd McShay said as much after scouting his Senior Bowl performance and noted that while he was teachable, it took some time for Ducasse to process the information.
Ducasse was labeled as a second or third round prospect and for the Jets this was a perfect storm. Ducasse was clearly high on their board and having just released Alan Faneca and his bloated salary, New York was looking to fortify the offensive line. They did not have their third round pick after trading it along with Chansi Stuckey and Jason Trusnik to Cleveland for Braylon Edwards and would not pick again until the fourth round.
The general thought process was that Ducasse would likely be unavailable by the time they were to pick at 124th overall (they later traded up to 112th to draft Joe McKnight) so they decided to pull the trigger at the end of the second round with the 61st overall selection.
The Jets let Ducasse compete with then-second year man Matt Slauson to occupy the void left by Faneca. It was always Slauson’s job to lose because Ducasse was just too raw to start right away and that was evident in practices. 2011 was more or less a wash. The lockout barely allowed players to prepare for the regular season let alone Ducasse who was still learning on the fly.
Last year a lot of people hoped for and expected more from Ducasse than what they received. However, by the end of the season he was rotating in and out with Matt Slauson at left guard which prompted conspiracy theories. By the offseason, it was quite evident why the team was doing this. Slauson walked as a free agent which would have opened the door for Ducasse but John Idzik came along and added players such as Brian Winters, Willie Colon, and Stephen Peterman and now plans have seemingly changed.
Where does this leave Vlad now? It’s hard to say. Earlier, Stephen Peterman and Brian Winters were battling it out to start at guard but Winters has been nursing an ankle injury for a couple weeks now and Peterman has been underwhelming. Vlad took first team snaps at left guard in practice while Peterman moved over to play center–an indication that if Peterman continues to underwhelm he could be relegated to back-up center which would seemingly push Caleb Schlauderaff off the team.
And if this injury continues to plague Winters for an extended period of time, Ducasse could virtually end up starting on opening day. Before you throw a fit, Ducasse has been playing relatively well in the preseason and has lined up at multiple positions validating his quote from above that he is indeed becoming more comfortable.
Can he be a long term starter for this team? Maybe but it seems unlikely now that Brian Winters is here. But, that doesn’t preclude him from maintaining a prominent role as a back-up. The Jets need players who can play anywhere on the line given the constraints of a 53 man roster and Ducasse is making a strong case for himself by not only flashing this versatility but playing well too.
The old saying goes that hindsight is 20/20 and the case of Vladimir Ducasse is no exception. Three years ago, in the Jets’ minds, this was a justifiable move with so much uncertainty surrounding the left guard position and the line depth in general. Now? It’s easy to see what could have been. (NaVarro Bowman, Jimmy Graham and Geno Atkins all say “Hi.”)
Even if he doesn’t start, Ducasse brings value to the team as a back-up. Does that justify where he was drafted in retrospect? The answer is likely, no. But, it would be foolish to turn away a guy who could serve as a valuable depth player especially when it has been in short supply on the offensive line for quite some time.