Updated, 6:25 p.m. ET
Time distortion is an Einsteinian thing. But it can be an NFL-ish phenomenon as well.
How long ago was it that Alan Faneca started at left guard for the Jets? Three centuries ago? Three decades? Of course it was only 3½ seasons ago that the perennial Pro Bowler started his last game in green and white, in the 2009 AFC Championship Game at Indianapolis.
Yet a sturdy thread stretches from Faneca through the Jets’ current free-for-all at both guard spots heading toward the coming season.
Before Faneca became a Jet in ’08, he was a Pittsburgh Steeler. And before Willie Colon became a candidate to claim one of the Jets’ starting guard jobs in ’13, he too was a Steeler. Needless to say, he and Faneca were black-and-gold-tight.
“I know Alan really well and I know a lot about him. Back then, I was always tugging on him and Jeff Hartings for knowledge,” said Colon, the Bronx native who’s returned home after spending his first seven pro seasons with Pittsburgh. “And I think the biggest for any guy who’s still around, still able to play the game, is the sense of urgency — you can only play this game for so long.”
“If you care about the game, if you care about the team, the worst thing you can do is not share information with the guys that are coming up.”
Faneca made such an impact on Colon that choosing a uniform number as a Jet was easy. His 74 with the Steelers has been claimed since 2006, when a rookie named Nick Mangold came to the Jets.
“When I got here, it was a question of which number did I want, 75 or 66?” Colon said. It took him a little longer than a blink of an eye decide on 66, which was the number Faneca made famous as a Steeler and for his two years as a Jet.
“I felt where I wanted to be, where I wanted to finish my career is on the same level that Alan finished his career,” he said. “I thought it would only be right to honor him and his number, show respect, and play my tail off like he did.”
Yet while Colon is doing that, he’ll be extending the thread to young men on the Jets’ O-line such as third-round rookie guard Brian Winters.
“Alan and Jeff, those guys did that for me. They saw I had a lot of upside. They paid attention to me, they cared about me,” he said. “And when I messed up or I wasn’t on my game, they were there for me to lean on and also to give me help and tools that made me a better ballplayer. So it’s only right that I can do that for Winters or Austin Howard or anybody that’s coming in that has a fair shot of being an impact player on this team.”
Winters appreciates the help and, as young as he is — he turns 22 next month — appreciates getting it from something of an idol of his, and possibly extending this thread even farther into the Jets’ future.
“I remember growing up and watching Willie play for the Steelers,” said Winters, who grew up in northern Ohio outside of Cleveland and not far from Pittsburgh. “My stepmom was a big Steelers fan, and I was from a Browns background, so watching him was great. I love the way he played the game.
“And to come in here and him kind of taking me under his wing is awesome. The coaches are there to help me, but when there’s specific things for that position that he can see, he teaches me and helps me on that. He doesn’t have to do that, but he wants to make me a better player.”
Colon said he’s impressed and inspired by Winters’ attitude.
“I remember not too long ago I was in his shoes and I just wanted to make it and I just wanted to fight and I just wanted to be out there and have a chance to crack the lineup,” he said. “And he’s right now in that position. I won’t be surprised if somehow he cracks that lineup. He’s extremely athletic and he has a lot of upside.”
Colon’s not the only one to see that. Head coach Rex Ryan talked about his guards on the last day of last week’s full-squad minicamp.
“Nick’s going to have two new guards playing with him so that certainly will be a challenge,” Ryan said. “But I’ve really been impressed with Willie, and the same thing with [Stephen] Peterman. We’re flipping all those guards, Winters as well. I’m expecting big things from this young man. So I feel pretty good about where we are with those guys.
“Sometimes there’s a comfort level. The offensive line immediately wants to say, ‘I’m the right guard,’ ‘I’m the left guard’ or whatever, but we’re not there yet. It’s about the competition. The best two will be out there and we’ll see who that is. But do I see good competition there? I absolutely do.”
During the minicamp, Winters was in the left guard cat-bird’s seat between Mangold and LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson. With him, Colon, Peterman, returnee Vlad Ducasse and sixth-round rookie Will Campbell in the mix, the competition is lively. The one thing we know today is that with the departure of Brandon Moore and Matt Slauson, the Jets will have two new guard starters for the first time since 2004.
It’s all good in the OL room, said Colon.
“You’ve got five guys who love the game and just go out there and get it done,” he said. “There’s no egos on this line. I’m not surprised but at the same time it’s a blessing. Some guys who are paid or have some type of credentials, you may get a jerk along the line. But all our guys are proud to go to work and take pride in their job and become good at it.”
And that encourages this new band of OL brothers to pay it forward — and to have a firm grip on that thread reaching back into the past as they power into the future.
The Jets announced this afternoon they have released long-snapper Travis Tripucka, the long-snapper out of the University of Massachusetts who was signed to a reserve-future contract early this offseason.
Also, for those scoring at home, Tripucka’s uniform No. 44 became available for a second before undrafted rookie TE Chris Pantale shifted from 81 to 44.
And Kellen Winslow, who wore 49 for his tryout at last week’s mandatory full-squad minicamp, then signed with the Jets the next day, will now be wearing No. 81. Winslow wore 80 with the Browns and 82 with the Buccaneers and Patriots.
Tags: Alan Faneca, Brandon Moore, Brian Winters, Matt Slauson, PIttsburgh Steelers, Stephen Peterman, Vlad Ducasse, Will Campbell, Willie Colon
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