Jets' Slauson, Ducasse friends despite competition
CORTLAND, N.Y. (AP)
They're two big men from different parts of the world who have little in common, from their skin color to their paths to the NFL. Even communicating can be a challenge: The American-born Slauson speaks with a stutter, and English isn't the Haitian-born Ducasse's first language.
Still, their desire to be the Jets' starting left guard has bonded them more than they could have imagined.
''Matt's been great,'' Ducasse said. ''He's always helping me out. Whenever I need something, I'll go up to him and ask him. He's always there for me.''
And that's despite the fact they're going after the same job.
''I don't want to make this where I'm trying to keep him from being his best so I have the best shot at getting the job,'' Slauson said. ''I don't want that because we're all on the same page. We care about one thing: Super Bowl.''
Offensive line coach Bill Callahan is charged with the task of replacing perennial Pro Bowl pick Alan Faneca on a unit that helped pave the way last season for the league's top rushing attack.
''It's awfully competitive,'' Callahan said. ''It's been challenging for both of them.''
Ducasse is a 6-foot-5, 330-pound massive, but quiet man who was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, moved to Stamford, Conn., at age 14, and speaks Creole, French and English.
''He's a real, real gentleman,'' Callahan said, ''but he competes and his nasty is growing.''
Ducasse learned how to play football in high school and was such a quick study, he ended up starting for three years at left tackle for the University of Massachusetts.
''Vlad's a stud,'' Slauson said. ''He's going to be nipping at my heels the whole entire way, pushing me. If I slip a little bit, he's going to come in and grab it.''
Slauson is certainly no slouch. He's also 6-5 but about 15 pounds lighter than Ducasse. He makes up for that with a tough-guy look that matches his intensity on the field with his scruffy chin hair and tattooed arms. Slauson, a sixth-round pick last year, was born in Oregon, went to high school in Colorado and then had a terrific career at the University of Nebraska.
''We're different, but we've developed a really good relationship,'' Slauson said. ''We hang out, talk about all kinds of stuff. I was actually just asking him the other day about what Haiti was like and what his parents did, and how his Dad is an accountant for the Bank of Haiti. It's cool.''
While much of the focus in training camp has been on Darrelle Revis' holdout, Rex Ryan's mouth, Mark Sanchez's development and all the new faces on the team, the competition between Ducasse and Slauson is just as important a storyline.
The winner will step into a spot Faneca held down the last two seasons. While Faneca's run blocking ability is still considered outstanding, his age - he's 33 - and declining pass blocking skills made him expendable. So, the Jets cut him the night they drafted Ducasse.
''They're very hard decisions, tough decisions,'' Callahan said. ''When you get attached to someone like Alan Faneca, it's very hard.''
Now, both Ducasse and Slauson want to prove the team made the right call.
''You're missing a piece, but Vlad and Slauson are doing a great job of battling, asking questions, wanting to be the guy that we can count on,'' center Nick Mangold said. ''When you have two guys that are doing that, it's a great situation.''
Slauson will start in the Jets' preseason opener against the Giants on Monday night. That doesn't mean the competition is anywhere close to being over, though.
''I've just been reluctant to say anything relative to anybody being ahead or not ahead,'' Callahan said. ''I'm the type of guy that just wants to see it play out and see what happens. We've got a whole preseason to go. Let them go for it.''
The two have been alternating work with the first-team offense throughout camp.
''It's such a long season,'' Callahan said, ''I may need them both.''
Slauson filled in at guard and center last season as a rookie, playing in three regular-season games. Meanwhile, Ducasse is transitioning from tackle to guard - just as Slauson did at Nebraska.
''At the end of it all, I want to become the starter, but I still have a lot of hard work to do,'' Ducasse said. ''The season's long, 17 weeks, so it's not like this battle is going to be over even after camp.''