The Chicago Bears last night signed free-agent guard Vladimir Ducasse. The five-year veteran played his first four seasons with the New York Jets and signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings in 2014.
We reached out to Tim Yotter at VikingUpdate.com, who has covered the Vikings since the 1990s, to get his take on Ducasse.
“Ducasse was brought in last year as a backup guard for the Vikings and got his opportunity to start when a series of injuries hit at the position. When starting right guard Brandon Fusco was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle in Week 3, Ducasse was his replacement.
“However, he lasted only four starts before he was replaced by Joe Berger when Ducasse suffered a minor knee injury. Berger proved to be the more effective option and Ducasse never got his starting opportunity back at right guard.
“In December, Ducasse also filled in at left guard when Charlie Johnson was lost for two games with his own injury. The Vikings made little attempt to re-sign Ducasse this offseason. In his limited time in the lineup, he was credited with allowing four quarterback sacks and nine hurries.”
Throughout his career, Ducasse has been a backup and spot starter at guard. In 2011, he served as New York’s sixth man in jumbo sets, similar to the role Eben Britton has played the past two years in Chicago.
In 2013, Ducasse broke camp as the Jets’ starting left guard but lasted just four games before being benched. His final start that year came against the Titans in which he allowed a whopping six QB hurries.
When called into action for the Vikings, Ducasse allowed a sack every 100 snaps, which equates to roughly 10 sacks allowed when extrapolated to 16 games. He’s had sporadic success as a run blocker during his career and has the massive size (6-3, 325) teams look for from mauling interior linemen.
When healthy in 2013, Slauson was Chicago’s best all-around lineman. He’s experienced and dependable in both pass protection and as a run blocker. At the same time, Long is one of the NFL’s top players at his position, so where does Ducasse fit?
Most likely he’ll serve as the swing guard and will be the primary backup to Long and Slauson.
Yet there’s a chance the Bears are planning to move Long to right tackle this season, something that’s been talked about in Chicago for two years.
Long is a highly athletic offensive lineman who has great balance and movement skills. He excels in space and some feel he’s been miscast as a guard.
At right tackle, Jordan Mills has struggled since his rookie campaign, allowing nine sacks, 19 QB hits and a remarkable 93 QB hurries the past two seasons combined, per Pro Football Focus. A consistent passing attack is nearly impossible with that type of pressure coming off the right edge.
Based on what I’ve seen from Long the past two years, particularly up close in training camp, there’s no doubt he can handle right tackle. He has the agility and quickness to play out on an island, while also the power to seal the edge in the run game.
Yet moving Long carries a lot of risk. It’s unclear how he’ll fare at right tackle, yet it’s very clear he’s a Pro Bowl-caliber guard. He didn’t miss a snap on offense last year, he was the team’s best run blocker and he didn’t allow a single sack.
Why remove him from a position at which he’s had great success to one he’s never before played?
And if you do that, then you’re banking on Ducasse inside, who struggles mightily in pass protection.
NFL coaches prefer offensive linemen who can play multiple positions, so it might be worthwhile to kick the tires on Long at tackle during training camp. Yet even a temporary move could have lasting effects, especially if the Bears, who have been scouring free agency for centers the past week, replace 36-year-old Roberto Garza.
In that scenario, the Bears would be breaking in new starters at three of five O-line positions, all working under a new coordinator and offensive line coach, and in a brand new playbook.
If too many changes are made, chemistry could be compromised, both in the short- and long-term.
How the Bears move forward with Long will be critical to the success of the offensive line but it’s very risky to bank on a career backup like Ducasse to fill Long’s big shoes at guard.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.