Steelers returning to Holmes
Mike Tomlin has been reluctant to use Santonio Holmes as a punt returner because the Steelers coach said he wants the third-year pro to concentrate on playing wide receiver.
Holmes, however, said returning punts would actually enhance his play at wide receiver and not compromise what he can do as one of the top deep threats in the NFL.
"It's just a football player's thing that you can't really describe," Holmes said, "but it's one of those things that the more times you touch the ball, the earlier you get involved, the more focused you are throughout the whole game."
Holmes, who got a turn returning punts Saturday night against the Vikings, can make a strong case can as to why he should be involved in an area of special teams where the Steelers struggled last season.
Holmes averaged 10.2 yards per return his rookie season -- the 6.1 yards the Steelers averaged on punt returns in 2007 ranked near the bottom of the NFL -- and he is a threat to break a big play any time he touches the football.
Perhaps the most compelling argument that can be made for Holmes returning punts is this: he is hardly struggling at wide receiver.
The former first-round pick led the NFL in yards per catch (18.1) last season, and in the Steelers' first two preseason games Holmes made the most of the limited time he spent on the field.
He caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers' 24-21 loss to the Bills on Aug. 14. A week earlier, Holmes and Roethlisberger showed just how in sync they have been during the preseason.
Both players read blitz on a play early in the Steelers' 16-10 win over the visiting Eagles and Holmes cut short his route. Roethlisberger hit the 5-11, 192-pounder in the flat and Holmes made perennial Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins miss badly on the way to a 19-yard touchdown.
"He understands what I'm looking for and we put a lot of work in this offseason, just him and I, on the field," Roethlisberger said of the connection he and Holmes have established. "Just the smallest things. I even asked him 'If you're wide open where do you want the ball• Do you want it up around your shoulder• Do you want it in your stomach?' "
Holmes, who caught 52 passes for 945 yards and eight touchdowns last season, rarely has a problem getting open.
A big reason for that is his route-running ability, which is something that left rookie wide receiver Limas Sweed in awe when he first started practicing with the Steelers.
"I didn't understand coming from college how you can make four (different) routes look the same for about 10 to 12 yards or 10 to 15 yards," Sweed said. "That's what he's able to do and stay smooth and fluid. It's something I'm working on right now."
Sweed calls Holmes a "master of disguise," and the latter has made it clear he would like to be a a master of punt returns, as well.
He starred in that aspect of the game at Ohio State, and his rookie season included a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown against Carolina.
Tomlin will ultimately make the call as to whether Holmes gets the opportunity to return punts. One argument he presumably can't make against is that Holmes has not developed enough as a wide receiver to taken on additional responsibilities.
"When he told me he needs me back there to make a play for the team I told him I'd jump back there any time," Holmes said. "It's just a different phase of the game that allows me to be more of a football player, getting the opportunity to make plays and doing as much as I can for the team."
- Mewelde Moore, RB. Former Vikings player has a career punt return average of 10.2 yards, and Steelers signed Moore during the offseason to bolster their kick return game.
- Eddie Drummond, WR. Pittsburgh native made the Pro Bowl as a return man in 2004 and has four career punt returns for touchdowns. Penn State product said he is healthy after an injury-plagued season in 2007 with the Chiefs.
- Willie Reid, WR. 2006 third-round pick has been a disappointment as a return man and is battling to make the 53-man roster.
Best of the rest
Santonio Holmes is one of a number of options the Steelers have as far as punt returners. Here are the others:
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- In Steelers-Saints game, all eyes on Brown-Lewis matchup
- Steelers notebook: Defense has a retro feel
- Stakes high as ex-Saints receiver Moore faces his former team
- Steelers’ backups Archer, Harris ready to run
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger says Saints game is ‘must win’
- Steelers notebook: Linebackers on the spot against Saints offense
- For Steelers, a fight to finish for playoff berth
- Steelers realize that Brees-led Saints are always dangerous
- Steelers notebook: Defense tasked with stopping Graham
- Steelers notebook: Injury to RT Gilbert opens door for Adams to start
- Steelers cornerback Taylor ready to swap earpiece for helmet