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The Jets had the league's most productive rushing attack last season. There were many factors behind this. The backs performed well. The play calling was very conservative with a mistake prone rookie quarterback under center. The biggest factor, though, was probably the terrific play of the offensive line. The five men in the trenches received deserved high praise from pundits. It was arguably the NFL's best line.
That did not stop Gang Green from making a change up front. Left guard Alan Faneca was released soon after the team took UMass tackle Vladimir Ducasse. Ducasse will have every chance to step into Faneca's spot. The Jets were reportedly so high on the young Haitian they were seriously considering nabbing him in the first round before Kyle Wilson fell to 29.
While Faneca is still productive at guard, he isliving off his reputation to a degree. While still a good run blocker, his work in pass protection has really slipped. He gave up more sacks than any guard in the league in 2009. The same was true in 2008. While his pulling in the run game was especially valuable, one could make. the case he has become a below average pass blocker.
That brings us to Ducasse. He is enormous at 6'4" and 334 pounds. He has the frame to develop into a dominant power blower combined with above average athleticism. He has all the tools necessary to become a top lineman in the NFL. What he lacks is experience. He has only played the game for six years. This leaves him fundamentally raw. He is learning technique. That is why somebody with his up side fell to the bottom of the second round.
Bill Callahan has earned a reputation for the work he done with the offensive line in New York. The play of Damien Woody in particular sticks out. Woody had less than half of one season of experience starting at tackle. Under Callahan, he has been a rock, starting 35 games since 2008 (including Playoffs). Callahan now must give Ducasse a crash course learning the finer points of playing on the line against faster and stronger athletes than he has ever seen.
The learning curve will be lower for Ducasse than it might be in other situations. First, he will work inside at guard, which is less difficult to master than tackle. He will also play between a pair of Pro Bowlers, D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold. That will make life easier. How quickly can Ducasse learn? That question could be one of the most significant ones the team needs to answer in 2010. Offensive lines function as a unit. It might sound cliche, but they are only as strong as their weakest link. Think back to how bad the 2007 line was. Over half of the starters are still with the team which now has a highly regarded line.
If Ducasse struggles, it could spell trouble for the Jets. If he picks up quickly, the line might become even better. Ducasse has the size and power to do good work in the run game. He is nimble enough to pull. He is also athletic enough to become an excellent pass blocker, something Faneca was not.