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Saturday, August 14, 2010
Slauson, Ducasse are frenemies on guard


CORTLAND, N.Y. -- The top positional battle of New York Jets training camp mostly has been overlooked because of the Darrelle Revis contract ordeal and the hubbub surrounding "Hard Knocks" on HBO.

A big story line exists at left guard, and the script looks more like a buddy movie than a drama.

Without animus, second-year lineman Matt Slauson and rookie Vladimir Ducasse are competing for the vacancy created by the Jets' decision to cut perennial Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca.

Slauson, a sixth-round draft choice who played in only three games last year, has the edge for now. He has been working more with the first-team and will start in Monday night's preseason opener against the New York Giants.

But the Jets drafted Ducasse in the second round with the intention of seeing him succeed.

"He's going to be a really good player," Slauson said after Saturday morning's session at SUNY Cortland. "Once he gets everything down, he's going to be an absolute freak out there."

While camp competitions can alienate teammates and sometimes generate bitterness, that hasn't been the case with Slauson and Ducasse. They've been spending considerable time together away from the practice field.

"I don't want to make this about trying to mess the other guy up because then you're not going to have the best player out there," Slauson said. "I want to say 'Look, Vlad, we both want the job. One of us is going to get it, and it's going to be the better one of us. If that's you, great. If it's me, I'll be stoked.'

"But if I'm out there and trying to tell him the wrong stuff to do so I'll look better, it isn't going to help us at all."

The job is an important one. The Jets have one of the NFL's best offensive lines. It paved the way for the league's top rushing attack last year and must be able to keep defenses off young quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Slauson has benefited from his long relationship with Jets offensive line coach Bill Callahan. They're entering their sixth season together. Callahan was Nebraska's head coach when he recruited Slauson there.

"He's a big, mean dude," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "Both these guys are tough guys. ... But last year when we got in preseason games he was knocking guys all over the place. I was impressed then: 'Hey, we got a guy here.' So we kept him on the roster, and he's been developed.

"Could he be the long-term solution there at guard? I believe he could. We'll see. We're lucky. We got a young guy that's really coming on in Ducasse, but I think Slauson's ready to be a starter in this league."

In light of Slauson's supportive philosophy toward Ducasse, I asked Ryan if he had a favorite story of a veteran sabotaging his competition.

"The classic guy for that is Matt Stover," Ryan said with a wide grin. "You bring another kicker in, the guy would be booming the ball? It was unbelievable. Guy would be killing it, every kickoff 8 yards deep, launching field goals. By the time Stover was done with him, you never knew if they were kicking right-footed or left-footed.

"This happened every single year. It was amazing. And we had some good kickers come through there. He was the horse whisperer. It was crazy. He'd kick a ball sidewise or something, and Stover would come up there and barely get it over the goal post like he did for 15 years."