When Alan Faneca removes his helmet, you'd think he could pass for a bass guitarist if he was walking down the streets of New York. Both his long hair and beard are red and he's got a certain easiness about him that says "cool dude."
But the 6'5", 307-pounder, who has earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl trips and signed with the Jets in early March, was brought to New York for his rugged play, workmanlike approach and leadership qualities.
"We're laying the groundwork right now and I think we're starting off well," Faneca said today following the morning practice. "It's not about where we're starting right now, it's about where we finish at the end of training camp and what we can accomplish during the regular season."
After 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, the 31-year-old Faneca is starting fresh. Many things are still new to him, like head coach Eric Mangini's penalty laps. Faneca was charged with two infractions Saturday and was forced to run around the grass field a pair of times.
"The first time I ran one, I felt like I was 10 years old again. It's one of the things, it definitely makes you focus," he said. "You get out here, you get under this heat and you're running a hurry-up offense and you're figuring out plays and you're figuring out defenses and you got to remember the snap count, too. It's just all part of the process of getting us going."
The transition has included the introduction of a new language. Faneca, who appeared in 158 games and made 153 starts with the Steelers, naturally experienced some rough patches in the spring.
"At first it was very challenging because virtually for 10 years I had the same terminology, so you get used to that and you get comfort in not even thinking about stuff like that," he said. "I got that all out in OTAs, but that did take a little while for me in OTAs to get used to the calls besides saying, 'Hey, Brick, you and me.' "
Instead of black and gold everywhere, Faneca's eyes had to get accustomed to the green locker room, green jerseys, green hats ...
"It takes a little while getting used to before you stop noticing," he said.
People who have visited this camp have probably taken note of the left side of the offensive line. The acquisition of Faneca, who will line up at LG between beefed-up LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold, has excited onlookers.
"You come to camp and it's time to hone your craft, get ready, work with the guys around you," Faneca said. "You want to come out of camp ... you're not going to be firing on all pistons, but you'd like to be as close as possible because you want to start hitting that stride and putting some wins together and working towards the postseason."
Faneca has been impressed with his new position coach. Bill Callahan, known as an offensive line guru, was a key Mangini hire after head coaching stints in the NFL (Oakland, 2002 -03) and in college (Nebraska, 2004-07).
"He's a great technician, he's a great teacher. He's got a great grasp on the game and he does a great job of not only coaching the big picture but the little things," Faneca said. "Things that sometimes even a guy like myself, an 11-year vet, may have not thought about in a while and may not have been doing — a hand placement, a foot placement. He is very wise in the game."
The younger Jets linemen will be bolstered by Faneca's presence. Ferguson and Mangold, both first-round picks back in '06, come to mind, but he'll also be invaluable for reserves.
"A guy like that, you try to absorb all the knowledge you can and listen to him," says OL Robert Turner. "He's a very intelligent guy — somebody that you want to have on the team."
Known as a leader throughout his career, Faneca is not one to boast about his credentials. He says leadership is not something anyone is entitled to.
"You come out here and show the guys who you are and what you are about on and off the field," he said. "Guys either respect it or don't."
Having already gained the appreciation of many of his teammates and his head coach, Faneca tasted championship success in Pitt and started 11 consecutive playoff games. A postseason regular, he knows the importance of continuity.
"You get really good when you can start figuring out where the back's going. For a long time, I could have told you where Jerome [Bettis] was going to run the ball just as soon as we lined up, based on the play and the defense in front of us. I could almost block accordingly, adapt a little bit just because I knew that," he said. "It takes time to get to that point, just trying to learn what everybody's thinking and everybody's seeing."
Those wheels are in motion. Mangini talked about how, on the Jets' off day, Faneca and RB Thomas Jones spent time in offensive film review, discussing what each man saw and how they reacted to certain situations.
"It's no longer a play in the playbook," Mangini said, "and the concepts sort of come to light."
The Jets' big redhead is rocking and rolling. His new band has some time to practice its act before its national tour begins in September down in Miami.