Training Camp Notebook: Returning punts would suit Holmes, but it's not likely
July 30, 2008 4:00 AM
Peter Diana / Post-Gazette
Ben Roethlisberger enjoys a lighter moment on Day 2 of camp yesterday.
Peter Diana / Post-Gazette
Safety Anthony Smith, right, cuts in front of receiver Willie Reid to intercept a pass in yesterday's afternoon practice at Saint Vincent College.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Santonio Holmes, banned from returning punts last season, wants a shot at it this season and lined up there for the first time in practice yesterday.
"If he wants me back there, I definitely will be ready for it," Holmes announced.
Yet he does not think coach Mike Tomlin wants him to return punts, even though he was among the AFC leaders in his rookie season (2006).
"I doubt if the opportunity will be there," Holmes said. "He still wants me to be the leader of the receiving group, so that's my focal point this year."
Even though Holmes averaged 10.2 yards per punt return in 2006, including one touchdown, he returned none last season. Tomlin explained that he wanted his young receiver to concentrate on playing his position.
The Steelers instead traded a seventh-round draft choice in 2008 to acquire over-the-hill Allen Rossum from the Atlanta Falcons. Rossum did little and had trouble fielding punts near the end of the season. He was released early this year.
Tomlin said he might take a "peak" at Holmes as a punt-returner, which is what he did yesterday morning at Saint Vincent College.
They really weren't punts -- a coach threw the ball in the air because punter Daniel Sepulveda was having his right knee tested, and it showed he had a torn ACL and will miss the season.
Holmes, new running back Mewelde Moore, ski bum Jeremy Bloom and Willie Reid all fielded the "punts."
As for Tomlin's assertion last year that returning punts might take away from Holmes' play at wide receiver?
"No," Holmes stated. "I think it gets me more involved in the game. It doesn't take away any part of my game."
Mendenhall a return man?
Many of the same group of players were back on kickoff returns with two notable exceptions -- Holmes was not among them and rookie Rashard Mendenhall was.
Mendenhall, the team's top draft choice, was not used as a return man at Illinois but may get a chance on kickoffs this season. It will be his first time, he said, since he did well returning them at Niles West High School in Skokie, Ill.
"I think it's pretty cool," Mendenhall said. "I returned in high school. I wanted to return in college but I wasn't afforded that opportunity. I feel comfortable back there and I look forward to it."
Eluding pursuers has been a way of life, Mendenhall said.
"My whole life I grew up in the open field, even from the park and playground, where there was chaos and scrambling and making people miss, it's all just the same thing."
Ex-Steelers Wilson a coach
Former Steelers receiver Cedrick Wilson has returned to football, not as a player but as a coach, and not in the pros or college ranks but in high school.
Wilson, a former starter released by the Steelers in March after he was charged with assault on an ex-girlfriend, is back home in Tennessee as the offensive coordinator for the new Douglass High School of Public Service and Communication Arts in Memphis, Tenn.
According to WMC-TV in Memphis, Wilson will join his former high school football coach, Dee Montgomery, on the staff. Wilson played for Montgomery on the Melrose High School state champion football team in 1996.
• Other than Sepulveda, there were no new injuries yesterday, and none of the injured returned to practice.
• The first two quarterbacks completed good two-minute drills with perfect touchdown passes. Ben Roethlisberger threw a tight spiral in a crowd that Nate Washington caught. Charlie Batch then completed all seven of his passes, including the final on a fade pattern on which 6-foot-4 rookie wide receiver Limas Sweed got perfect position on 5-9 cornerback Anthony Madison, leaped and caught it in the left back corner for the score -- just as the Steelers drew it up on draft day. "We're giving [Sweed] a bunch of reps," Tomlin said of his second-round draft pick. "He's a guy who has a lot of energy, a young guy who has a ways to go. He's capable of taking a lot of reps. He's one of those guys who doesn't get fatigued; he can run all day. So, it gives him a bunch of opportunities, and he took advantage of a few of those today."