Matt Slauson set as backup plan

Updated: September 22, 2011, 4:36 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Now they have a contingency plan for the contingency plan.

With All-Pro center Nick Mangold expected to miss the first game of his career, the New York Jets used Colin Baxter -- an undrafted rookie -- with the starting offense Wednesday in practice. No surprise there; Baxter is the choice to replace Mangold on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.

But -- and this is an interesting twist -- the Jets used left guard Matt Slauson at center at the end of practice for about a dozen plays. Slauson did double duty, also playing center for the scout team. If Baxter gets hurt or really struggles in his first NFL start, the Jets could move Slauson to the middle, with second-year backup Vladimir Ducasse coming off the bench to play left guard.

"Obviously, it would be a little more stressful, but I'd adjust," said Slauson, referring to the prospect of having to play center in a game.

Slauson has played center only once in his career, and it was for only three plays in 2009. It happened in a game at Tampa, when Mangold was briefly shaken up. Slauson said they called the three easiest plays in the playbook during his cameo.

The Jets' offensive line, for years the model of continuity, is on the verge of musical-chairs mode. Their universe was altered Sunday, when Mangold suffered a high-ankle sprain. Officially, the Jets haven't ruled him out this week, but they're prepared to play without him.

"I'll never say never, but I don't see it happening this week," coach Rex Ryan said.

Mangold is off crutches, but he's still in a walking boot and didn't set foot on the practice field. He hasn't given up hope for this week, but he acknowledged the last thing he wants is to come back too soon.

"You don't want anything lingering, and I think that's the fear of the injury, trying to rush back before it's ready," he said.

It hasn't come to this yet, but Mangold was asked what he might say to Ryan to try to persuade him to let him give it a go.

"Umm, please?" Mangold said with a smile. "That's usually a good way to start. Plus, it's out in Oakland, and that's close to wine country. I'm sure I could get him a nice bottle while we're out there. I figure that might help."

The Jets' backup center, Rob Turner, is out for several more weeks with a broken leg, so the Jets have turned their desperate eyes to Baxter, whom they acquired on waivers Sept. 4 from the San Diego Chargers. Baxter is on a crash course, spending extra time in the film room with Mangold and Turner.

The line will make adjustments to account for Baxter's lack of experience. Instead of having him make the line calls, the coaches will give that job to right guard Brandon Moore, who made the calls in practice. He admittedly flubbed a few, but he expects to be on point by Sunday.

Ryan and Baxter's teammates have made sure to express confidence in his ability to get the job done, but it's a nerve-wracking situation. Mangold is the rock of the line, having started 82 straight games.

"I'm not (Brett) Favre, but 82 is a special thing," he said. "But I'm not going to put myself or the team in detriment over it."

Mangold's absence would mean an adjustment for everyone, including quarterback Mark Sanchez.

"After practice, we were going over some of the calls and in my head, I'm thinking, 'What would Nick want me to do?'" he said. "You get spoiled by Nick."

If Baxter can't do it, it's going to put the line in a precarious position. Ducasse, the disappointing former second-round pick, hasn't taken reps at left guard since last season. But Ryan said he'd feel more comfortable with Ducasse than Caleb Schlauderaff -- a natural guard -- because Schlauderaff still is learning the system. He was acquired only three weeks ago in a trade with the Green Bay Packers.

Ducasse struggled in the preseason, but he received a vote of confidence from general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who said Monday he still believes Ducasse will have "a great career."

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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