Many consider the offensive line a key building block for any successful football team, understanding that an offense is only as strong as the men protecting it. Putting together a complete line for a full 17 weeks has proven to be a difficult task for the Jets over the past several seasons.
In an attempt to shore up the front lines, the Jets chose big guard Vladimir Ducasse out of Massachusetts in the second round of the 2010 draft. While the goal was to use the 6'5", 325-pounder at left guard to replace Pro Bowler Alan Faneca, Ducasse struggled throughout his inaugural training camp and relinquished the job to fellow guard Matt Slauson.
Ducasse has shown significant progress over his three seasons with the Green & White but has never cemented a spot in the starting lineup. He has started only one game during his tenure in the league but his continued development is seen in the fact that he has appeared in every game over the past two seasons.
During this summer's training camp the 26-year-old has seen an increased workload and the heavier burden of being asked to play at both the guard and tackle positions.
"Vlad's situation is very tough because Vlad has had to learn everything," Rex Ryan said after practice Monday. "He's competing with the guards and he's competing at tackle so it's really tough on him."
Ducasse doesn't have a preference either way when it comes to which position gets him on the field. He said his preferred situation is "both" and if it was up to him to choose, he said, "It doesn't matter."
The responsibility of mastering multiple positions is not restricted solely to "Big Vlad." Rex Ryan and O-line coach Mike Devlin have consistently moved other members of the line around in an attempt to find which combination works best.
"We're working all the guards at every spot," Rex said, "so we've got Willie [Colon] learning left guard and right guard, same thing with [Stephen] Peterman. We've got Vlad working at tackle as well, because there's a lot of competition at these spots. Is he a starter? We'll see."
Ducasse has not shied away from any competition with Peterman and Colon, their collective 15 years of experience dwarfing his three. Instead, he has tried to learn and replicate the play of both veteran linemen.
"Seeing those guys play teaches you how to play," Ducasse said. "It's not as much them teaching verbally but it's more just seeing it and learning what they're doing. Those two guys are like bullies out there so that added something to my game and helped me be more like them."
As the Jets get ready to leave the humble confines of Cortland on Thursday, Vladimir Ducasse is set to complete his fourth NFL training camp, a number that secures him somewhat veteran status amongst his contemporaries. He understands the responsibilities that are associated with being one of the more senior members of his football team.
"There's always responsibility," he said. "There's more trust and now you have to step in those big shoes and play that role."
As for his role on the 53-man roster, Vlad understands that his ability to adjust to new environments and new positions will help secure his place as a valuable cog in the trenches.
"I think I'm a player that brings more value playing both guard and tackle," he said, "someone that brings more to the table; I'm trying to be more flexible, more versatile."