Alan Faneca spent all of his 10 previous NFL seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler before becoming a Jet this past off-season. During that time, Faneca grew to be very familiar with current Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who helped coach Pittsburgh's consistently strong offensive line.
Prior to being hired for his first head coaching job by the Cardinals in 2007, Whisenhunt spent six years with the Steelers — the first three as tight ends coach and the next three as offensive coordinator. He joined a team of talented coaches who helped lead Pittsburgh to victory in Super Bowl XL.
Whisenhunt only had good things to say about Faneca.
"He's a great player. You don't go to those Pro Bowls the number of years he has if you're not a very good football player," he said. "The leadership that he brings to the team, the mindset that he brings, especially to the offensive line, was really critical to being a tough-minded football team, which is something that we established while we were in Pittsburgh."
The respect is mutual for Faneca.
"It's a two-way street," the Jets' left guard said about his former coordinator's comments. "For what we went through together … you admire each other for what you've done and what you've been through, and how you got through it."
Leadership is one of the many traits that Faneca has carried over to the Jets, and thus far it's showed as he was voted an offensive captain by his teammates after having been with the team only since March.
"The thing I remembered the most about Alan was his ability to make things work on the football field," said Whisenhunt. "A lot of time in games, things don't come up the way you want them to. It was always Alan who made the critical adjustment or made the play in space that you just said, "Guys can't do that." He's very special in that regard."
"As many times as we asked him to pull or get out in front of a receiver or a back out in the open space, which is very difficult for most big guys, he always seemed to make the right decision, which was a big part of our success in doing things," he said. "I remember a guy who was not only a very good player but a great teammate and leader. That's the way Alan is and I have great respect for him."
The Jets' offensive line will need Faneca's leadership and knack for improvisation as they face the Cardinals' defense.
"They're going to bring guys, you know. They're going to do it a little bit in an unorthodox way," he said. "Sometimes, they're willing to leave a slot receiver open for 5 yards or so, until somebody gets to him, just to keep you guessing where the pressure's coming from."
"They do a lot of movement up front," said fullback Tony Richardson. "One thing that definitely jumps out to you when you watch the film, all those guys finish. They finish to the ball. Every time someone has a ball in their hand you're going to see 10, 11 hats around the ball at all times, and that's the sign of a very good, aggressive defense."
The Cardinals are indeed off to a better defensive start than they were in recent years. Over the first three games of the season their defense ranks fifth in points allowed, a peak they haven't reached since four weeks into the 2004 season.
Defensive end Bertrand Berry, who had sacks in each of the first three games of the season, is out Sunday with a groin tear, but defensive tackle Darnell Dockett is listed as probable for this week's game after full participation in Friday's practice.
"He's a great player, man," Faneca said of Dockett, who played in last season's Pro Bowl after leading all NFL interior lineman with nine sacks. "He's high motor, high speed, quick hands, he's always quick on the snap count. I played against him last year and it's an all-day battle with him."
As for the Jets' task against the Cards, Faneca said balance is the key.
"You want to be able to run, you want to pass, you want to mix it up," he said. "You want to be able to keep that chemistry to keep them guessing a little bit."