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Unexpected Affects Offensive Line

Faneca's arrival increased competition on already-crowded unit


The current starting offensive line -- (from left) RT Brandon Keith, RG Reggie Wells, C Lyle Sendlein, LG Alan Faneca and LT Levi Brown take part in a practice drill this week.

FLAGSTAFF – As the Cardinals reported for physicals before training camp, Alan Faneca went up to Lyle Sendlein and told him to bring queen-size sheets to Northern Arizona University.

Odd, Sendlein thought, since the dorms only have twin-sized beds.

Then Sendlein showed up to camp, along with Levi Brown and Reggie Wells, the other players sharing the quad with Faneca. They found queen-sized beds in their rooms along with 42-inch TVs, and four overstuffed La-Z-Boy recliners in the shared living room in front of a 73-inch TV -- all thanks to Faneca.

"I was like, 'Man, you're going to have a hard time getting me out to practice,' " Sendlein said.

It's become a rite of camp for Faneca, who has done it wherever he has gone. "Whoever my roommate was, I guess I feel guilty if I get some stuff, so I take care of my roommates," he said.

The bounty was unexpected – just like Faneca's arrival to the Cardinals.

The Cards had built an offensive line unit that was already going to have competition. Rex Hadnot, a guard/center, was signed as a free agent. Jeremy Bridges had already shown he could be a starter if needed. Mike Gandy was gone, but third-year tackle Brandon Keith prepared to step in with veterans like Wells, Brown, Sendlein and Deuce Lutui.

Then Faneca surprisingly became available when the Jets cut him. The Cards signed him. Suddenly, there was a deep group of linemen – deep enough that the Cards likely won't keep them all.

"You create the competition," offensive line coach Russ Grimm said. "There should always been tension. That's part of the game. You go to an office and work, you know if you don't get your stuff done, you're going to be replaced. It's the same thing here. If you don't have anybody backing up, then you can slide a little bit because you think, 'What are they going to do – replace me?' "

The Cardinals kept nine offensive linemen on the roster last season, with seven active on game days. But that included two young players – Keith and Herman Johnson – who didn't play virtually all season. Johnson, a project for the future, likely will be in the same boat this season.

There are other factors to consider for the future as well. Four of the linemen – Lutui, Faneca, Sendlein and Wells – have contracts that expire after this season (Keith's contract is also expiring, but he will be a restricted free agent).

"There is a lot of talent in the room," Faneca said. "Not everybody is going to make this team but I guarantee they'll make another team. That's a good problem to have as a team. The guys we have, we are all fun loving, we joke around together, we hang out. Whatever tension is there, it's on the football field, and it's about playing football better rather than wishing a guy you are playing against any ill will."

Said Lutui, "We can look at each other in the face after all."

Faneca – while he needs to play well – has an inside track to the starting lineup. He was plugged into the left guard spot when he arrived, and Wells, who had started the last few seasons on the left side, moved to right guard. That was made easier because Lutui missed all the offseason while waiting to sign his contract. Then again, it is Lutui who, despite his rocky offseason, may have the best chance to be in the Cards' future plans. General manager Rod Graves has said that even as Lutui stayed away from Tempe.

It all makes for intrigue as the Cards sort through the line before the regular season.

"It's obviously going to be a hard team to make, the hardest since I have been here," Sendlein said. "And it will be even harder to become a starter."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt has reveled in competition at every position, but having it at the offensive line seems even more important. To be able to withstand an injury makes any coach happy, and, given the history in Pittsburgh between Whisenhunt, Grimm and Faneca, it was almost a given the Cards would chase that extra piece.

"I knew what kind of player (Faneca) was and I knew they wanted him beforehand and I knew if the opportunity presented itself they'd look at trying to get him again," said Wells, who might have been the one most directly affected by Faneca's arrival.

"They'd be foolish not to look at a guy like that. I am no stranger to playing different positions. This is my last year on my contract. It's just one more thing you have to stay mentally prepared for."

At least Wells can have his physical needs taken care of in his dorm room, with his big bed, giant chair and massive TVs.

"I think we were hitting the lottery there," Sendlein said.

Now the Cards have to find out which offensive linemen have the winning tickets to their roster.

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