This is the third in a series of stories reviewing Jets' 2007 season and previewing 2008, position by position.
The Jets' 2007 season was a trial by fire, and no unit was more singed than the offensive line.
But out of the ashes have come learning and growth, not to mention the off-season arrival of a few burly firemen and a new assistant fire chief to make the group more flameproof in the coming season.
"There are plenty of things to take from last year to learn from," center Nick Mangold said. "You learn your best when something goes wrong, so there's plenty of stuff to learn from. But you can't dwell on the fact of what last season was. You have to be able to not only learn from it but to put it behind you and move on. We're all 0-0, starting fresh."
Spring is a time for freshness, of course, and two unrestricted free agents now at work in Weeb Ewbank Hall have a lot to do with that. Alan Faneca comes from the Steelers to replace Adrien Clarke and play left guard, something he's done at a high level with a streak of seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances on his résumé.
Part of the idea in quickly signing Faneca was to have his experience and skill rub off on his new next-door neighbors, Mangold and left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
"I've talked to them both a little bit, and I've worked out with them," Faneca said last week in an interview from the training complex on NFL Network. "We're just getting to know each other. We've just begun that process of growing into an offensive line."
"Alan's a great guy and his track record is very nice," Ferguson said in a Q&A on NBCsports.com. "We're excited to have him. We're just going to get to work on chemistry and bonding."
Bonding will also take place on the right side of the line with the addition of Damien Woody, a mere one-time Pro Bowler. He started the last five games with Detroit at right tackle last year and so with the departure of Anthony Clement, the general assumption is that Woody is the Jets' new RT.
But Woody was also a right guard for the Lions and a C/LG/RG for the Patriots before that. As general manager Mike Tannenbaum could say, when you assume ...
"We do see Damien playing at tackle as well as at guard and center," Tannenbaum said. "His versatility is one of the hallmarks of what we were looking for as well as him being a tremendous person. Eric [Mangini] was in New England with him and so was [QBs coach] Brian Daboll, so we knew some people that were familiar with him."
Wherever they all line up, they join RG Brandon Moore plus several other holdovers who saw playing time late last season: Will Montgomery played the second half of the season and started vs. Tennessee and Kansas City at LG, and Robert Turner at LG and Clint Oldenburg at RT saw action in the last two games as well.
Then you can throw in Jacob Bender, last year's sixth-round draft choice who played only on special teams in two games; Matt McChesney, who's been around for a while and still is game to earn a spot on the active roster; and Wayne Hunter, a former third-round pick (by Seattle in 2003) who joined the Jets' practice squad late in the season. Plus any other players who arrive in this year's draft or as undrafted free agents.
It's an interesting mix of new and old, and the new chief, as we said above, or perhaps chef is more appropriate as he searches for the right blend, is assistant head coach/offense Bill Callahan.
"I was really excited to get Bill," Mangini said at his news conference at the NFL Combine. "He's a guy who has experience not just with the offensive line but he's been a coordinator and a head coach in the NFL and in college football. I really liked the things that he's done offensively throughout his career."
If you think this all means the Jets will be looking to run more, you're not alone.
"Talking to [coordinator] Brian Schottenheimer and the guys on the offensive staff," Faneca said, "they want to get back to running the ball. Getting in there and helping that out, being able to aid in that process, is part of what I'm here for."
Big blockers such as FB Tony Richardson and TE Bubba Franks have been added to the mix, too. But besides running the ball, the OL also will be charged with keeping the Jets' QB, whether it's Chad Pennington or Kellen Clemens, upright and clean in the pocket.
The Jets struggled with both those elements of line play last season, as was well-documented. Thomas Jones and Leon Washington provided yeoman efforts as the ground game scuffled to 19th in the NFL in rush yards per game (106.3) and tied for 22nd in yards per carry (3.8). And the 53 sacks allowed produced the third-worst sack rate in the NFL (10.3 dropbacks per sack) and equaled the 2005 Jets' total for the most given up by the team in the past 18 seasons.
But that's in the past. Call it a learning process. Look at the season, through the eyes of one of the new guys, as some other OL that has made this potentially new, improved line possible.
"I'm feeling like a rookie again," said Faneca, 31. "I'm excited and enthused. A new place, a new situation — it gets you revved up again."