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Old 10-02-2006, 11:23 AM   #1
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Default Rookies Run Rough Route

By Scott Brown
Monday, October 2, 2006

Dear proud (if perturbed) members of the Steelers Nation,
I realize you would sooner see the Cowboys' star in the middle of Heinz Field than Ricardo Colclough returning punts. And that you have other concerns with the 1-2 Steelers, particularly regarding the passing game.

You shouldn't, for what it's worth, expect too much from first-round pick Santonio Holmes, and that's not a knock on the former Ohio State star.

History shows wide receivers generally play more of a supporting than starring role in their first season.

Consider that of the 45 wideouts taken in the first round of the NFL Draft from 1996-2005, only three had 1,000 or more receiving yards their rookie season. By comparison, nine of the 28 running backs drafted in the first round during the same span have eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing as rookies.

"Having to share (the ball) was difficult," said former Pitt All-American Larry Fitzgerald, who had a solid rookie season with the Cardinals (58 receptions for 780 yards in 2004) before breaking through his second year. "And the matchups -- the competition was a lot better."

Countless players have found that out.

Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver of all time, put up decent numbers (49 catches for 975 yards and three touchdowns) but hardly dominated his first year.

Cris Carter, who is second only to Rice in career touchdown receptions and receiving yards, caught just five passes in nine games for the Eagles his rookie season.

"There were so many things I didn't know and things I did well in college that didn't work in the pros," said Carter, who is now an HBO "Inside the NFL" analyst. "You have less time to get open because they put more pressure on the quarterback in the NFL. I would say that any nickel back (in the NFL) is better than any cornerback you ever faced (in college)."

The game is so much faster in the NFL that first-year wide receivers can feel like they've stepped onto a treadmill that has been set at the highest speed, as Hines Ward can attest.

"Here, we have guys studying every move you make, and you have to adjust on the run and be able to read coverages," said Ward, who caught 15 passes for 246 yards and no touchdowns as a rookie in 1998. "There's only been one receiver I ever saw that came in as a rookie and dominated the game, and that's Randy Moss. He just was a freak of nature as far as speed, height and just made plays."

As physically gifted as Moss is, Carter said the 21st overall pick of the 1998 draft relocated to South Florida after the Vikings took him and worked out with Carter up to six days a week.

Carter tutored Moss on the finer points of flanker, the position he had played for the previous eight years, allowing Moss to arrive at training camp as more than just a callow rookie.

Moss caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns, emerging as one of the most feared receivers in the game his first season.

His production has dropped dramatically since the Vikings traded him to the Raiders.

"He's non-existent," former Steelers wide receivers coach Kenny Jackson said. "But you saw what he did when he first got in the league, and you say 'Wait a minute.' "

Moss has had to endure suspect quarterback play, and that has been magnified by a bad offensive line in Oakland. Jackson's larger point: wide receivers are dependent on so many things, from the quarterback getting them the ball to the offensive line giving the quarterback time to throw.

Take those variables and add all of the adjustments rookies have to make, and you can see why Moss, Terry Glenn and Michael Clayton are the only first-rounders to go over 1,000 yards receiving in their first season since 1996.

Past Steelers first-round picks such as Louis Lipps and Troy Edwards have made an impact as rookie wide receivers.

Others have not.

Plaxico Burress caught 22 passes, none of which went for a touchdown, his rookie season, and Lynn Swann had half as many receptions as Burress his first year in the NFL.


Modest beginnings
Through the first three games, first-round pick Santonio Holmes has put up modest numbers (five catches for 51 yards and no touchdowns). Here is how other wide receivers the Steelers drafted in the first round have fared their rookie season (regular-season statistics only).

Name Year G Rec. Yds. TDs
Frank Lewis 1971 9 3 44 0
Lynn Swann 1974 11 11 208 2
Louis Lipps 1984 14 45 860 9
Charles Johnson 1994 16 38 577 3
Troy Edwards 1999 16 61 714 5
Plaxico Burress 2000 12 22 273 0


It's too early to tell what Holmes will contribute to the passing game this year.

"The more opportunities I get to play and make plays, the easier the game becomes," Holmes said. "I've just got to take it a day at a time and continue to learn."

The quicker the better as far as you fine fans - and the Steelers passing game - are concerned.
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