By Joe Rutter
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
First-round draft pick Santonio Holmes had almost nothing to show for his third preseason game with the Steelers.
Almost nothing, except the admiration of his coach.
Bill Cowher liked the progress Holmes made in the Steelers' 16-7 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, even if those contributions were negligible on the stat sheet.
"He has gotten better and better," Cowher said Monday, emphasizing his words. "He really has. I thought the other night he really did a lot of good things. I'm very encouraged by where he's at."
That proclamation came three days after Holmes caught one pass, for a 1-yard loss, against the Eagles.
With the Steelers facing third-and-4 near midfield to open the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger hit the rookie receiver in the left flat, but Holmes quickly was brought to the ground by Brian Dawkins.
The only other times Holmes handled the ball were on two kickoff returns, where he averaged a pedestrian 20.5 yards.
Cowher, though, saw some intangibles about Holmes that reinforced why the Steelers traded up seven picks to draft the former Ohio State wide receiver with the 25th overall selection.
"Just being around him and his demeanor on game day, I really like it," Cowher said. "I think he's going to be fine."
Specifically, Cowher was referencing Holmes' competitive instincts and toughness.
"(The game) is not too big for him. He likes it, and he'll accept whatever role he's been given," Cowher said. "I can see the comfort he's getting within this offense. The kid missed all of the coaching sessions, came into camp and fought through some things, and I liked that."
Through three exhibition games, Holmes has six catches for 42 yards. He also has returned five kickoffs and one punt.
Against the Eagles, Holmes worked with the first-team offense as a third receiver. But Nate Washington is expected to fill that role once No. 1 receiver Hines Ward returns from a hamstring injury.
That could leave Holmes scrambling for playing time come Sept. 7 against the Miami Dolphins.
"Right now, I'm being patient," Holmes said. "I'm waiting for coach to call my number."
Cowher doesn't sound like he's afraid to dial it up. Holmes scored some points with his coach by shaking off a minor hamstring injury during the first week of camp.
"A couple of days out there I'm sure a little birdie inside him was probably saying to shut it down," Cowher said. "But he kept working through it. I respect that."
Holmes hasn't missed a practice since. That could change Wednesday, when Holmes is scheduled to stand trial in Columbus, Ohio, on domestic violence charges stemming from his June 19 arrest. Defense attorney Sam Shamansky has been trying to get the case dismissed.
Holmes hasn't talked publicly about the case, but he admitted yesterday he's taking steps toward putting his problems behind him.
"I've learned a great deal," he said. "I look at all the little mistakes I've been making on and off the field, and I feel I've been able to correct them the past two weeks and move forward. I haven't had many complaints from the coaches, not about running the wrong routes or not making the right blocks. Things have been going pretty good."