Holmes catches on to become top rookie
Friday, December 22, 2006
By Colin Dunlap, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If the newspaper Letters to the Editor section and phone calls to radio talk shows provide an accurate barometer of public sentiment, some inhabitants of this town wanted Santonio Holmes run out of it before he even got here.
Back in late June, the Steelers' first-round draft pick from Ohio State was in the news for all the wrong reasons.
There was that 3:30 a.m. incident on May 27 in South Beach in Miami that ended with Holmes being cited for disorderly conduct when he and a police officer disagreed about the flow of traffic outside a hotel on ultra-trendy Collins Avenue.
There also was that June 18 Columbus, Ohio, incident in which Holmes was charged with domestic violence, assault and a minor traffic offense.
Charges stemming from the incidents were subsequently dropped. That said, at the time of the first and second arrests, Steeler Nation raised its collective brow wondering why Holmes was the common denominator and if such incidents would continue.
"Those things happened, I put them in the past and I never look back at them," Holmes said yesterday.
"Even when I had to attend court, I never looked back at it and said, 'Man, this is going to stop me from becoming successful.' ... I just said, 'Forget it. It is something I have to go through.' I got it over with and I got back to work."
That he did. And, in doing so, he has become one of the most prolific rookie receivers in franchise history and a bona fide weapon as a return man.
Heading into Sunday's showdown at Heinz Field against Baltimore, Holmes has made two starts and is first in the AFC among rookie receivers with 40 catches. He's also second in the NFL in punt return average as his 10.3 yards per attempt trails only Chicago's Devin Hester (13.8).
Yesterday, Holmes was selected by members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America as the Joe Greene Great Performance Award winner, given annually to the team's outstanding rookie. Holmes is the third receiver to garner the award since its inception in 1984, joining Louis Lipps, who won the first award, and Troy Edwards, the 1999 winner. Edwards caught 61 passes in his rookie season while Lipps pulled in 45.
His contemporaries and the Steelers' coaching staff knew Holmes had the raw physical skills and the competitive makeup to be a difference-maker in the NFL when he reported to preseason camp just moments before the deadline.
"This guy can be pretty good. That's the first thing we thought when he got here," Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch said. "We knew what we had."
What the Steelers also had was a player with a pedigree at one of the nation's elite college programs.
In his three years at Ohio State, Holmes caught 140 passes and 25 touchdowns. Most impressive was his 18.4 yards per catch average.
But that was college and, as with any receiver, a transformation needed to occur.
"He had to adjust to this game," Batch said. "When you are in college and you are faster than everybody, you can get away with that, you know, just being faster than people. But, when you come to this level you have to be precise and Hines [Ward] sort of took him under his wing and said, 'This is how it needs to be done.' "
Holmes acknowledges that Ward and some of the other Steelers veteran receivers have made his acclamation to NFL life, both on and off the field, much easier.
"I probably owe it all to those guys," Holmes said.
"Because they have been picking me up every day. When the time came around where I was down from all these accusations off the field, those guys told me, 'Hey, we've all been through it or we know somebody else who has been through it. The best thing to do is focus on your job.' "
A focus with one key component -- soaking everything in.
"One thing about Santonio is that he is always listening," Batch said. "And that is what has made him grow as the year has gone on."
Even if, back before camp opened, many in this town had already started to count Holmes out.