Offensive line coach Russ Grimm (left) and guard Alan Faneca walk through the Cards' weight room Thursday after Faneca arrived in Tempe.
Alan Faneca enjoyed his reunion tour Thursday as he arrived for the first time at the Cardinals' Tempe complex.
The veteran Pro Bowl guard engaged in a conversation with former teammates like Clark Haggans (with the Steelers) and Jay Feely (Jets). He talked to special teams coach Kevin Spencer and head coach Ken Whisenhunt, both of whom were with the Steelers when Faneca made his reputation.
But it was Russ Grimm who got the biggest hug. The Cardinals' offensive line coach was Faneca's in Pittsburgh from 2001-2006, the coach who turned Faneca into the perennial Pro Bowler he has become and a man whom Faneca calls a friend.
"(Russ) is a big part of why I really wanted to be here," said Faneca, who arrived in Arizona Thursday in advance of minicamp, which starts Friday. "He's a great coach, a great friend. To be back with him, to get his point of view and his perspective into football … that means a lot."
It also means a lot for Grimm and the Cardinals to have Faneca in Arizona. Grimm said he doesn't consider himself any closer to Faneca than many others he has coached, but it's impossible not to hear the enthusiasm – subdued as it might be – in Grimm's voice when he talks about his newest Card.
Faneca is a special player, Grimm said, both in ability and as a leader.
"Is it the Alan Faneca of six years ago? No," Grimm acknowledged. "But it's not far off."
Faneca delivered the same sentiment. He said he felt he played well last season (and he earned a ninth Pro Bowl selection).
"Was it as good as year six?" said Faneca, 33. "Honestly, no. I don't think any guy that is on year 12 (of his career) can tell you to your face it is the same as six years ago. But did I think I came to the table and played well? Yes."
That's why the Cardinals wanted Faneca two years ago, when the Steelers let him walk away as a free agent. Faneca wanted to come to Arizona. But the team was hamstrung on the salary cap while renegotiating Larry Fitzgerald's contract and unable to offer any big deals.
It's possible they never would have been able to chase Faneca anyway, not when the Jets ended up giving him a five-year contract worth $40 million, including around $22 million in guaranteed money.
"To be honest, back then, I didn't think we had much of a chance," Grimm said. "He wanted to come here but you've got to do what you've got to do. It's a business decision. I told him, business is business, friendship is friendship. You can't let the two affect each other."
It worked out this time. The Jets shocked Faneca – who realized he'd likely be released by reading media reports around the draft – by cutting him last weekend. Still owed more than $5 million of his 2010 guarantee with the Jets, he reportedly will get $2.5 million in guaranteed money for his one-year deal in Arizona.
He'll step into a line that's have a different personality. Left tackle Mike Gandy is gone. Right tackle Levi Brown is moving to Gandy's spot. There is a wealth of options at Grimm's disposal to find the correct combination – Rex Hadnot or Lyle Sendlein at center, or Hadnot battling at guard with Reggie Wells and Deuce Lutui, or Wells and Jeremy Bridges and Brandon Keith and maybe Herman Johnson at tackle.
"We'll see how it pans out," Grimm said. "It's not as bad as trying to put a line together three years ago because three years ago we had a lot of different faces. The only new faces are Alan and Rex. The other guys have been here and know the system.
"We're going to have good competition. Whatever comes out of the wash. We will play the best five. The jobs are open. They open up every year."
While the jobs may be open, it's hard to believe Faneca doesn't already own one of them. He's proven himself to Grimm and it's taken the two longer than they originally wanted to reunite.
"I really don't know a whole lot (about the line) right now," Faneca said, "not enough to get here and talk about the guys. I haven't even met all of them yet. But I just hope to bring what I brought to New York: A guy who plays good football and brings good leadership."
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