By Rob Smith
During the 2010 draft, reports were that the Jets had a first round grade on Vladimir Ducasse and that he would have been their pick in the first if Kyle Wilson hadn’t dropped. The Jets claimed to be ecstatic that he was still there when their second pick rolled around. Expectations were high when the Jets cut Alan Faneca and the left guard job seemed to be Vlad’s to lose. Ducasse struggled in camp and was beaten out by 2009 sixth round pick Matt Slauson. With Damien Woody contemplating retirement and Wayne Hunter a free agent the team spent the lockout with Ducasse as the leading candidate at right tackle. Wayne Hunter quickly signed to start at right tackle, but expectations were that Ducasse would compete for the job and eventually take over.
In the preseason opener against the Texans, Ducasse had a rough night giving up a couple of sacks and generally looking over matched against starters and backups. Fans got down on him and in this post-Gholston era they are not likely to accept allowing roster space and time for player development. To make matters worse, during one the sacks he allowed, Rob Turner broke his leg and the Jets lost their number one backup on the offensive line. This forced Ducasse to work at both tackle and guard for the remainder of the preseason. His struggles continued and he was called for numerous penalties.
By the time the final preseason game against the Eagles rolled around patience with Ducasse had worn thin among Jets fans. He drew the blame for just about any miscue along the offensive line. With the Jets second stringers dominated and the team unable to move the ball on the ground or through the air it was assumed that he had an awful game and that he probably deserved at least some fault for third string quarterback McElroy’s injury.
Taking a closer look at Ducasse’s performance during the Eagles game he was not quite as bad as initially thought. Switching back and forth between left and right tackle, on three or four occasions Ducasse actually flung his man to the floor. He was rarely physically beaten though on at least one pass play he was driven straight back by the defensive end. Ducasse was not dominating by any means, but he seemed to hold his own and the worst plays he made were two false start penalties during the two minute drill before the half. He made up for this by tossing his man on the following play.
Prevailing thought among fans is that Ducasse is better suited to play guard where he won’t be forced to play in space and that he will be able to use his size to drive his man in the running game. This isn’t necessarily the case; against the Eagles Ducasse used his reach to consistently direct the speed rush outside the pocket allowing more than adequate time to throw. His run blocking against the Eagles was far from spectacular and he rarely showed the kind of drive that fans are talking about. Most of his blocks were kick outs. These plays are hard to grade because with the lack of adequate guard and center play and with no legitimate fullback the lanes often collapsed so quickly behind Ducasse it is hard to assign blame.
False starts are certainly a problem. Thursday night both came in the shotgun with Ducasse in a two point stance. In the earlier game at least one came when he was a pulling guard. As he gets more comfortable with game speed and these different assignments they will likely come under control.
Ducasse was a small school project when drafted. He came from Haiti at a later age and didn’t grow up playing and watching football. He admitted to having trouble with the play book last year and his extremely low Wonderlic score of 13 would seem to indicate that shouldn’t be a surprise. He has all the physical tools, but will he be able to put it together? It’s obvious that it would be in his best interests to concentrate on one position. It seems the team has settled on playing him at tackle. While numerous guards were auditioned, Ducasse spent the entire fourth game at tackle. He was only pulled when the Eagles went to what was probably the fourth string and after he had an effective drive. He is the only backup tackle remaining now that Clifford, Landolt and McKaskill were all cut. The team may still bring in another tackle, but the trade they made was with Green Bay for Caleb Schlauderaff, a guard who they say can snap and will likely handle those duties pending Turner’s return.
After watching Ducasse’s performance against the Eagles the Jets are probably not excited about the prospect of him seeing extended time, but they probably feel much better about him than any cut down day players available. Ducasse was obvious the best tackle the Jets used on Thursday night though it seems odd that they started Landolt at the more prestigious left tackle spot. Ducasse was obviously hurt by the lockout because a player like him needs as many reps and as much instruction as possible and the change in positions made that even more important. It’s possible the team will look for another tackle on the waiver wire or through a bargain trade, but it’s more likely they will just find a practice squad player in case of emergency. The team probably isn’t quite as nervous about Ducasse as the fans.