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Bucs center Faine hopes search for stability is over

Faine, at 27, is the senior member of a starting offensive line with a lot of promise.

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Faine, at 27, is the senior member of a starting offensive line with a lot of promise.

TAMPA — Jeff Faine is perhaps one of the nastiest linemen you'll ever encounter, a player whose reputation for punishment precedes him.

But don't ever confuse his on-field insanity with his tranquil off-field personality.

New Orleans seemed the perfect place to settle down for the center, who loves varied genres of music and all things art. He figured his career and the city could grow simultaneously, with the post-Hurricane Katrina redevelopment under way when he was traded there in 2006.

All that stood in the way was a long-term extension that would enable Faine to see his plan through. But he's now the richest man to play center, thanks to a blockbuster offseason deal with the Bucs.

"I definitely wanted to stay," he said, noting the irony that his first regular-season game with the Bucs on Sunday comes against his former club.

"It was something where I felt at home there. The city welcomed me. It's a big city, but it's really kind of a small town. You get to know a lot of people. The fans were amazing there, just like they are here. And my teammates were great."

Maybe the Saints saw it differently.

The team's decision to anoint Faine's backup, Jonathan Goodwin, as the 2008 starter all but closed the curtains on Faine's time in the Crescent City.

Then, one minute past midnight on the first day of free agency, Bucs coach Jon Gruden called. The Bucs dangled an eye-popping $37.5-million package that made saying no next to impossible. Now Faine sees Tampa Bay, his third team in his six-year career, as a place he can finally put down roots.

Once, Faine felt the same about New Orleans.

"We really had something there, I thought," he said.

Regarding the situation in Tampa, where at 27 he is the senior member of a young but potentially dominant offensive line, Faine says, "I think we can put together a good couple of years here and really be special."

Faine won't have to sell nose tackle Chris Hovan. He probably has more perspective on Faine than anyone in the organization, having tangled with him twice a year in division play. Much of what transpired during those one-on-one duels is not appropriate for print. But Hovan has a greater appreciation for what the Bucs gained.

"He's a blue-collar, physical type of center that most teams are really searching for," Hovan said. "He's a guy who will really play you whistle to whistle. You can go out there and find all the talent in the world, guys who can run a 4.6 (40-yard dash) and bench press a whole bunch of weight. But if you get a guy who has a mentality like Jeff's, that really adds something to your offense.

"He's nasty. You can't coach that. That's a trait that a player either has or doesn't have. It's not acquired over the years."

What teams can do is acquire players with the trait, and the Bucs believe they have several. The offensive line remains a work in progress, but the feeling is that the work is nearing completion.

"That left guard (Arron Sears) is special," Gruden said. "And that right guard (Davin Joseph), if you watched the preseason, geez. And (Jeremy) Zuttah's a guy who can play in there, too. That right tackle (Jeremy Trueblood), he's pretty good. And (left tackle) Donald Penn is coming on, too."

Faine might be the final piece of the puzzle. And considering he's playing an hour from his childhood home (Orlando), for a team he knows wants him, this piece fits just right.

"I definitely feel like it's been a long journey to this point," Faine said. "But it really has worked out, I think, exactly the way it was supposed to."

Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@sptimes.com.

Bucs center Faine hopes search for stability is over 09/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 4, 2008 7:38am]
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