One of the constants that the Vikings had through an offseason of transition was an offensive line coming back fully intact. For a team that was making over many of its component parts, one thing that didn’t change was the O-line.
While the five starters remained in place, the Vikings began the process of building depth, especially at the guard position. The team drafted David Yankey and signed Vladimir Ducasse in free agency.
In four years with the New York Jets, Ducasse started just five games, but when injuries struck last year, he got four starts and was able to showcase himself to other teams. The Vikings liked what they saw and signed him.
When starter Brandon Fusco went down with a season-ending pectoral injury, Ducasse was thrust into the starting lineup. Although he didn’t have the same sort of chemistry Fusco had developed in between John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt, Ducasse was comfortable in his role on the line because it was something he had been preparing for since May.
“It wasn’t a difficult transition for me because I’ve been here since the OTAs and knew that I had to work hard to get my opportunity,” Ducasse said. “It was just a matter of me stepping up and doing my job.”
When Ducasse became a free agent, many were convinced the Jets were going to re-sign him. Ducasse thought that might happen as well, but he was intrigued with what the Vikings are as an offense – based primarily as a power running team that tries to maul defenders.
Given Norv Tuner’s history of employing a dominant, physical running game as a centerpiece of his offensive philosophy, the Vikings seemed like a glove fit for Ducasse.
“I liked what they did as a team,” Ducasse said. “Their offensive line is one of the best in the league in running the ball and I was looking for that kind of opportunity – to be part of something that could be one of the best in the NFL. I think we have that here.”
His decision to sign with the Vikings was a relatively easy one. He had played four years with the Jets and, with the exception of injuries, hadn’t cracked the starting lineup. He was looking for a fresh start and hoping to make an impact and finally get his opportunity. Of the teams that expressed an interest, he felt the Vikings were one that could provide the best opportunity for him.
“A lot of it was just having a new beginning – a new team and a new beginning with them,” Ducasse said. “That was just my mindset. I wanted something different and the Vikings looked to be a good place to accomplish that.”
For a tight-knit group like the Vikings offensive line is, Ducasse was taking a leap of faith that he would be a welcome addition to the group. That isn’t always the case in the NFL. Keeping starting jobs is always a concern in the back of the minds of players and coming into an unfamiliar situation where he’s the new guy on the jobsite could have been daunting.
But, as other new players to the Vikings have said, the family atmosphere is one that permeates throughout the organization. Ducasse was a new member of the family and was made to feel that way almost immediately.
“I thought about that a little bit, but the guys all welcomed me with open arms from the day I got here,” Ducasse said. “That helped a lot because my only experience in the NFL had been the four years I played with the Jets. They made it easy for me to adjust and feel welcome.”
Ducasse was a welcome addition, even though the initial plan was for him to be a valued backup, not a starter. But as one of the players who lines up next to him will attest, Ducasse helped keep the offensive line a cohesive unit after Fusco went down and it seemed like he had been with the team a lot longer than just six months.
“He’s done a great job since he’s been in there,” Loadholt said. “He’s been in the league for a few years and knows his way around the field. He’s seen a lot of looks and ran similar schemes. Once he got the terminology down, he stepped right in and has done a good job. You need guys like that because injuries happen and you need someone who can step in and get the job done. He’s done that.”
Ducasse admitted that one of the selling points on the Vikings was the opportunity to block for Adrian Peterson. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was a plus. Having spent four years under the Rex Ryan “Ground and Pound” offense, he had experience in what the Vikings offense looks to prove every week – that even in a pass-happy league, teams that run the ball successfully can be winners.
While the Peterson portion of the equation has been scuttled by his legal issues, Ducasse believes that the formula hasn’t changed. Even though A.P. isn’t around, the philosophy remains the same – you win games by running the ball, eating time off the clock and winning physical battles.
“I knew they run the ball a lot, whether it was Peterson or someone else,” Ducasse said. “The Jets ran the ball a lot, so I knew what to expect and I felt it was a good fit for me.”
Fusco is currently on the mend and, given that the Vikings gave him a long-term contract at the start of the season, it would seem clear that when he’s healthy next year, the right guard position belongs to him. In the meantime, Ducasse has the opportunity to show that he can fight for a starting job, whether at right guard or left guard, in the future.
For the time being, it’s his job and he is looking to make the most of it. What the future holds is uncertain – as it has been for the entirety of Ducasse’s career – but he is ready to make his stand and prove he can be a long-term starter in the NFL, whether that it with the Vikings or someone else.
“I can’t control those decisions,” Ducasse said. “All I can do is play hard, show my passion for the game and, if the coaches believe I help give us the best chance to win, it will all work out. Right now, I’m just looking to show them that I belong.”
Ducasse acclimating, fitting in with line
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