According to Kimberly Martin of Newsday, the brief era of Vladimir Ducasse starting at left guard appears to be over:
I'm told #Jets are going to go with rookie OL Brian Winters over the inconsistent Vlad Ducasse.— Kimberley A. Martin (@KMart_LI) October 1, 2013
Until this year, the Jets have gotten next to nothing in return for their second-round pick they used on Ducasse in the 2010 draft. However, Ducasse was finally starting to show signs of life this summer, winning the starting job in training camp, albeit with the help of injuries to some of his competitors, including his eventual replacement, Brian Winters.
An athletically gifted Haitian native, Ducasse has always struggled with the mental aspects of the game, especially when it comes to picking up blitzes and recognizing stunts.
To his credit, Ducasse had himself the best summer of his career, which he carried into the first two games of the season. He got the best of the mighty Vince Wilfork in Week 2, coming in as the 14th-best guard of the week in Pro Football Focus' ratings while drawing praise directly from Rex Ryan himself, via Matt Ehalt of ESPN.com:
Obviously, a second-round pick, you want the light to come on sooner than later, but we knew with his limited football background, it would take some time. Obviously, he's done a really good job.
The rest of September was not nearly as kind to Ducasse. He drew four penalties in an ugly win over Buffalo the following week and followed it up with a miscue-riddled performance against the Titans last Sunday.
This time, however, Ducasse's shortcomings were based around the fact that he was not able to block the player in front of him rather than figuring out which player to block.
On this play, Ducasse is beat cleanly on a basic rip move. Ducasse shows terrible technique right off the snap—notice how wide apart his feet are.
When a guard's feet are that far apart, he eliminates his ability to change direction with the player in front of him. As a result, Ducasse is beat immediately off the snap, applying quick pressure to Geno Smith.
Smith tries to escape the pocket, but the defensive end, Ropati Pitoitua, seals any exit for Smith and is forced to take a big sack.
As spotty as Ducasse has been in protection over the past two weeks, his average production in the run game is likely the main reason why the Jets are ready to make a change at this point in the season.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Jets are at their worst when running into the "B" gap on Ducasse's side, averaging just 1.4 yards per carry. Bilal Powell has been a very productive player over the past few weeks, but Ducasse has had little to do with it.
Even the best player gets beat from time to time, but for a player on as short of a leash as Ducasse, this was the final straw that gave the Jets an excuse to insert third-round pick Brian Winters into the starting lineup.
Who is Brian Winters?
Winters has yet to play in a meaningful NFL snap, but based on the traits that made him a second-day pick out of Kent State, the Jets have every reason to play him now to see if he can clean up the mistakes on the offensive line.
Winters started at right and left tackle at Kent State, but he has the build of an NFL offensive guard for today's NFL.
First off, the Jets should not be worried about Winters' ability to make the transition from tackle to guard. The excellent offensive line that carried the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl featured two guards—Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele (a rookie)—who were former tackles in college.
It would be easy to peg Winters as a try-hard overachiever form a smaller program at Kent State, but he is a talented prospect in his own right. He has quick feet (which is why he was able to play tackle) and a ton of power to work with.
To the Jets, however, his most important trait that separates him from players like Ducasse is his mean streak. Winters plays out every single snap with the exact physical attitude that the Jets (and every other team in the league) are looking for on their offensive line.
Here is an excerpt from NFL.com's scouting report on Winters:
Finishing plays is not an issue, steps out to attack his man quickly after the snap, latches on like he’s beginning a wrestling match, and then keeps his legs moving to sustain. Throws smaller ends to the ground if they let up as the whistle blows.
The issue for Winters is that his overaggressiveness can lead to some overextensions that cause him to lose balance. The Jets are clearly willing to see if Winters has fixed those issues rather than see Ducasse draw multiple false starts every game.
Benching Ducasse makes plenty of sense, but it is not necessarily a no-brainer—after all, he is only two weeks removed from his dominant Week 2 performance. To not consider the fact that there were likely politics involved to get John Idzik's players on the field as soon as possible would be naive.
The Jets were just waiting for an excuse to send Ducasse to the bench, and they pounced as soon as Ducasse showed signs of weakness.
It is always a risky move starting a rookie over a known commodity (as average as the known commodity has been), but this is a move that could pay dividends.
In the short term, Winters could provide a spark to boost the running game and help create an identity on the offensive line. Even if Ducasse was a more consistent player, no defender would line up in fear of the mild-mannered Ducasse. Winters makes up for his lack of experience with youthful energy and vigor.
Plus, for a rebuilding team like the Jets, getting young players valuable reps as soon as possible only expedites the rebuilding process.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).