Sunday, May 13, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As with Alan Faneca himself, the Alan Faneca story just won't go away for the Steelers this weekend, and it is putting their new, young head coach to an early test.
Less than 24 hours after declaring he would reluctantly participate throughout a mandatory minicamp, Faneca skipped the morning practice yesterday after someone -- apparently from the organization -- said something that upset him.
Then someone else, coach Mike Tomlin, convinced the six-time Pro Bowl guard to rejoin his teammates for the afternoon practice.
"Some things were said, and I just had to cool off, a little cool-off time," Faneca said after the second practice.
He said the mystery remark was unrelated to anything he said Friday when he passionately declared this would be his final season with the Steelers because they were not treating him fairly in talks to extend his contract past its one-season expiration date.
Faneca's status on the field and off as the most-decorated guard in the Steelers' history and a three-year co-captain makes his stance a potential tinderbox for Tomlin. If so, the 35-year-old coach seems to be handling this early trial well.
Not only did his lunchtime talk with Faneca convince him to return to the practice field, Tomlin has managed to put his team through what appeared to be four strong practices the past two days. He could use this as a means to get some early messages through to his players.
"Sure, it's an issue," Tomlin said, "but I think more than anything else it's got to be a lesson for us as a football team in that the season is not without its ups and downs. Adversity is part of it, distractions are part of it.
"Take this as an opportunity to grow in that area and deal with some things and go out and play football. ... The standard of expectation is not going to change on our football team regardless of what's going on, whether somebody has personal issues, whether someone's playing or not because of injury. ... If nothing else, we're getting some positive out of this from that standpoint as a football team. But, again, it's a very personal issue for Alan. I respect that element of it, and we'll move forward."
Tomlin downplayed whether the circumstance was a test for him.
"Well, you know, all of this is a test. Every time I get out of my car in the parking lot, it's a test. And it's one that I readily accept as part of the job, and I'm excited about meeting the challenge."
Faneca's issue certainly was a topic among his teammates; whether it becomes a distraction might not be known for months or until the season opens.
"I don't consider that a problem, to be honest with you," said starting right guard Kendall Simmons, one of Faneca's closest friends on the team. "We as a team are going to take care of our part and we're going to support him because we know what's going on and know the situation.
"That's up to them to deal with that. I don't think there's going to be a distraction. We had a good practice today, and it ain't going to change from here on out. Love to have him out there. It makes us 10 times better when he's out there."
Chris Kemoeatu, entering his third season, took Faneca's place at left guard for the morning practice.
Tomlin could fine Faneca for skipping the morning practice, but would not say if he did so.
"Again, we'll deal with that, but we'll deal with that internally."