- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- When Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan wanted to show draft pick Vladimir Ducasse how to be a great left guard, he didn't have to go far to get the film. Callahan had tape of Alan Faneca, which he showed Ducasse to give him an idea of what the team needed in an offensive lineman.
"Alan's game consisted of being a great puller," Callahan said, "and he was phenomenal in space. You put him on a pull, you put him on a screen, he was exceptional. And he also had an uncanny ability to play when he was uncovered, getting to the second level, making the blocks on the linebackers. And he was good at the point of attack when he was uncovered. So he was complete."
Critics might point out that the Jets could have had the real Faneca in there again this season, rather than using video of him as an example for a rookie. But with Faneca in Arizona after being cut by the Jets (who are still on the hook for roughly $5 million of his salary), the Jets will have to find a replacement.
Matt Slauson, the second-year player competing with Ducasse for the spot left vacant when Faneca was cut, has said all along that he isn't in this to win second place. Callahan said the Nebraska player worked hard all offseason to get ready. He has several advantages -- he played behind Faneca for a season, he has been in the system for a year and he is more familiar with the guard position. Ducasse played tackle at Massachusetts.
"I feel like I'm in a good position right now battling for a starting position and that's it," Ducasse said.
When Joe Namath visited Cortland, N.Y., this week, he said he was "confused and upset" when he learned the Jets had cut nine-time Pro Bowler Faneca. The offensive line is a critical component, and can be the difference in dozens of rushing yards.
"I'm more worried about our left guard position than I'm worried about anything," Namath said. "The offensive line is a major factor in letting the offense produce. If our horses up front can do a job similar to what they did last year, you have a good shot offensively."
Nick Mangold said it would be difficult for either rookie to follow in the footsteps of Faneca, whom he called a future Hall of Famer, but that doesn't mean the Jets aren't trying to give the two young players the tools.
"It's a learning curve but we're trying to get them past that curve quicker than it should take," Mangold said.
Callahan is still figuring out Ducasse, the rookie who looks the part but seems a little lost in all that he is taking in right now. Slauson has been with Callahan for four full seasons now, since he's the man who recruited Slauson to Nebraska. The coach compared the two.
"We've got a young guy who's learning in Vlad and we've got a little more experienced player in Matt who has worked hard," Callahan said. "He's worked extremely hard in the offseason."
Although Ducasse and Slauson are both a step slower than Faneca, they will have capable tutors in Mangold, Damien Woody, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Brandon Moore. Mangold agreed that Slauson has the edge right now.
"He has a little upside on the mental side and the NFL is a very mental game," Mangold said.
Slauson realizes that he's up against a player with a physical advantage. Ducasse is 6-5 and 330 pounds and looks like the prototypical left guard. Slauson is the same height but about 15 pounds lighter.
"I don't want to be in the same position I was last year because that means I'm not improving," Slauson said. "I want the job, but If Vlad beats me out because he's a freak and he's incredible so be it. So long as we win."
The truth is, this competition is far from over. In the fifth day of training camp, the tone has been set, but weeks will pass before an outcome is determined.
"Really the evaluation comes when you get into the preseason games and the bullets are flying," Woody said. "So they're both competing hard but this thing is far from being decided right now."