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August 13, 2010

Jets' veterans adapt to changes

CORTLAND -- These days, things are a little different for D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold.

The positional competition going on between Matt Slauson and Vlad Ducasse to decide who will start at left guard this season puts Mangold, the New York Jets center, and Ferguson, the left tackle, in unfamiliar territory.

Mangold and Ferguson have had the luxury of nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca filling the gap between them for the past two seasons. And in 2006, the players' rookie year, veteran Pete Kendall worked beside them.

"Now, when you have a young guy to your right," Ferguson said, "it's important to understand that things are changing.

"You know, fifth year in the league, you're not a rookie anymore. There are different expectations, even for myself. It's not about my personal play anymore. It's about how we play together."

Slauson, who was the Jets' sixth-round draft pick in 2009, currently has the edge — at least for now.

Head Coach Rex Ryan said Slauson's "grasp of the system" and "grasp of the techniques" is what currently separates the second-year Jet from the rookie second-rounder Ducasse, and that's why Ryan anointed Slauson the starter for the team's Monday night preseason opener against the New York Giants.

Center Mangold refrained from giving Slauson the outright advantage but admitted that Slauson's comfort level is clearly higher than Ducasse's.

"The NFL is a very mental game," Mangold said. "And when you have a guy who knows a little bit more of the playbook, he's obviously going to have the edge."

Ducasse still has a very high ceiling of potential, as players and coaches around the organization rave about his physical talents and abilities.

"I see (Ducasse) making strides more," Ryan said. "I see him improving. I still think it's going to be a good competition for that spot."

No matter who starts, Mangold and Ferguson have accepted veteran leadership roles as they both enter their fifth year in the league. Fortunately for Ducasse and Slauson, Mangold can offer some useful advice.

"Don't step on my toes," Mangold said. "That's the best advice I could give them."

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