Friday, October 05, 2007
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Santonio Holmes is living up to the high hopes the Steelers had for him when they moved up in draft to select him.For all the principles who remain the same from Super Bowl XL, and there are many, Santonio Holmes was not with the Steelers the last time they faced the Seattle Seahawks.
But, in the time that has elapsed since that day in Detroit, he has rapidly become a major player in the Steelers' offense, almost as much as those Super Bowl heroes Hines Ward and Willie Parker.
Ward, though, said you have to go back even further to measure the impact Holmes is having on the Steelers' offense. The four-time Pro Bowl receiver said Holmes is giving the Steelers their best one-two receiving tandem since Plaxico Burress was the starting split end.
"We really had that tandem that teams really feared," Ward said "We haven't had that since me and Plax, really."
Indeed, since Burress left in free agency after the 2004 season, the Steelers have not had a big-play, deep-threat receiver to line up opposite Ward at the split end -- or "X" -- position.
Antwaan Randle El stepped into that role in 2005 and finished with 35 catches, 558 yards and one touchdown. When Randle El left in free agency after the Super Bowl, Cedrick Wilson became the starting split end and caught 37 passes for 504 yards and one touchdown.
But, since Holmes became the starting split end in Week 13 last season, he has nearly exceeded all those numbers in eight starts.
In those eight games, Holmes has 30 catches for 605 yards and four touchdowns, two of which came in the 21-14 loss Sunday in Arizona. That's twice as many touchdowns as Randle El and Wilson had in two seasons combined. Holmes' per-catch average in those games is 20.1 yards.
"You want a guy who can stretch the field vertically," said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. "But, when the same guy can catch the ball across the middle and run after
the catch, you got something special."
Holmes was a junior receiver at Ohio State when the Steelers beat the Seahawks, 21-10, at Ford Field, an underclassmen getting ready to enter the NFL draft. But he has done nothing but justify the Steelers' decision to trade up seven spots to take him with the 25th overall selection that spring, the first receiver selected in the draft.
After finishing his rookie season with a flurry, Holmes demonstrated his value and impact on the Steelers' offense against the Cardinals, catching six passes for a career-high 128 yards and scoring the only two touchdowns in the team's first loss of the season -- a game in which the Steelers played without Ward, their four-time Pro Bowl receiver.
Holmes might get a chance to do it again Sunday because Ward has not practiced since spraining his knee Sept. 23 against San Francisco and likely will not play against the Seahawks (3-1) at Heinz Field.
"That's why they drafted me to be here -- to make big plays," Holmes said. "The more opportunities I get, the better I'm going to be."
Holmes leads the team with 14 catches, 285 yards receiving and three touchdowns after four games. His average of 20.4 yards per catch ranks second among all AFC receivers with more than 200 receiving yards.
He was able to tie his career-high with six catches because the Cardinals were using nine players to stop the run, leaving their corners in single coverage. Holmes made them pay almost immediately, catching a 43-yard touchdown pass over cornerback Eric Green on third-and-26 on the second offensive series.
He added a 7-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter on a play in which he made a nice catch running across the back of the end zone.
The Steelers have not had that kind of production from that position since Burress, who caught 261 passes for 4,164 yards and 22 touchdowns in five seasons with the Steelers (2000-04).
"Santonio is one of those guys who started to make plays when the plays presented themselves," Ward said. "It's going to take a lot of pressure off me. He's kind of our deep-threat guy, which we had when Plax was here and I was the guy who made the plays and moved the chains. You always got to have guys who can complement each other. He's starting to come into his own."
"We really had that tandem that teams really feared. We haven't had that since me and Plax, really."
-- Hines Ward, on playing with Santonio Holmes
"That's why they drafted me to be here -- to make big plays. The more opportunies I get, the better I'm going to be."