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08-05-2009, 01:09 AM
Harris: Holmes is putting the team first
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By John Harris
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Forgive Santonio Holmes for his exuberance after scoring the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII and earning MVP honors with nine receptions for 131 yards in the Steelers' 27-23 victory over Arizona in Tampa.

Understandably, Holmes, who trains at Disney's Wide World of Sports 90 miles up the road from Tampa during the offseason, was feeling confident about having a more prominent role in the offense when he told the Tribune-Review in late June, "I can only do it with the opportunities the coaches give me. The more opportunities I get from the coaches to touch the ball, I think that will definitely dictate how well my season goes.''

Holmes extended an olive branch to the coaching staff because he fully understands the Steelers are a run-first, pass-second offense. The chances of him hiking his receiving total from 55 in 2008 to, say, 100 in 2009 are slim and none. Knowing that, Holmes will settle for some kind of happy medium.

So far, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians isn't taking the bait.

"Everything we do is to try to win the game,'' Arians said Monday. "It's not about stats. I think all of our guys know that. If we play well, they're going to have enough stats.

"Tone broke out in the playoffs last year and became the player we all knew he'd be. People want to put 100 catches on a guy. You can go to the worst team in the league and catch 100 balls because they're throwing every down. You get your respect from your peers just beating them, winning.''

Holmes said it isn't about the number of catches for him as much as it is the quality of catches.

"We're not concerned about being compared to other guys. All we want to do is win a Super Bowl,'' Holmes said. "If Ben (Roethlisberger) and I can work on the same page and win another Super Bowl, that's what we want to do. We're not going to worry about being compared to other quarterbacks and receivers, or is our package me and Hines (Ward) better than the other guys?''

Holmes had three or fewer receptions in eight regular-season games in 2008. It's difficult to determine if that's what the playbook dictated, although Arians said Holmes was double-teamed a lot last season.

In fact, Arians suggested that Holmes is playing more slot receiver during training camp because it's difficult for teams to double the inside receiver. Holmes is taking reps from Ward, who despite being OK physically, has been held out of practices.

Holmes, in fact, was Roethlisberger's main target in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday. Holmes caught a long touchdown pass in what was the best offensive play of the afternoon.

"There's never a happy receiver on Monday because one of them didn't catch enough balls,'' Arians said. 'That's all predicated on the defense they can take a guy out of the game. And the guy's going to be frustrated because he only catches three balls.

"Tone is a guy we're trying to develop more and more at outside receiver and now this year giving him a lot of inside work (because) it's a lot harder to double him.''

Arians said Holmes' ability to attract two defenders contributed to Ward recording a team-high 81 catches this past season. But Arians said the Steelers need a new No. 3 receiver to replace Nate Washington and relieve pressure from Ward and Holmes.

"As the season progressed, it helped Hines because, all of a sudden, they couldn't double Hines,'' Arians said. "If you double Hines in the slot, you couldn't double the outside guys. Between Nate, Tone and Hines, we've got to replace that third guy that they're scared of. The quarterback finds the single-covered guy, and away we go. We don't really care who catches what.''

John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

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