In Ohio, Holmes remains a standout
Santonio Holmes has added 11 pounds, thickened his shoulders and forearms and strengthened his upper body, all to stay healthy for a 16-game season and tolerate the bumps and bruises he incurs in the NFL.
It's not because he's carrying the pride of the Ohio State University on his back.
It just seems that way every time he plays a game in Ohio.
"Not many guys get the opportunity to go back where they played college ball or where they played high school and have family and friends around," Holmes said. "They get a chance to see what you can do and what you did for those guys when you were playing there."
Holmes has certainly done that.
Maybe it's the juice he gets when he hears "Hang on Sloopy," the official rock song of the state of Ohio, being blared at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Holmes gets so animated when they play the song, his teammates tease him because he thinks he's back at Ohio State, where he was a three-year starter.
"They think I'm cheering for the Cleveland Browns," Holmes said.
Holmes returns to the state of Ohio Sunday night when the Steelers (1-0) play an AFC North game against the Browns (0-1), and, if recent history is any indication, the third-year wide receiver should have another red-letter performance.
In four games in Ohio since he left Ohio State -- two against the Browns, two against the Cincinnati Bengals -- Holmes has 17 catches for 341 yards and three touchdowns. In last year's 34-7 victory in Cleveland in the season opener, he caught two passes for 55 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown.
If he keeps that up, pretty soon they might let him dot the "I" in "Script Ohio."
"I never look at it as being successful going back there," Holmes said. "It's the way the game plays out for me. I never go into a game thinking, in the back of my mind, 'OK, I'll show these guys.' It's the way game plays out."
Then he added, "But a lot of them wish I were with the Browns and not with the Steelers."
The Steelers did not use Holmes much in their 38-17 victory against the Houston Texans, but, then, they really didn't have to.
He caught only two passes for 19 yards, though the first one -- a 9-yarder over the middle on third-and-3 -- kept alive the first scoring drive that resulted in Willie Parker's 7-yard touchdown.
That could change against the Browns, a team with a tattered secondary.
Before the season, they traded their best cornerback, Leigh Bodden, to the Detroit Lions for nose tackle Shaun Rogers, and lost nickel back Daven Holly, a projected starter, to season-ending knee surgery. That forced the Browns to sign nickel back Terry Cousins as a free agent and trade a seventh-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for cornerback Travis Daniels at the end of training camp.
On top of that, strong safety Sean Jones had arthroscopic knee surgery this week and will not play against the Steelers, and free safety Brodney Pool hasn't played since the second preseason game because of a concussion, his third in four years. Poole is expected to return Sunday night.
"That's a tough deal," Holmes said. "Maybe the more players they have out, the better we can perform.
"With the balance of running the ball and passing the ball that we have, that's been the biggest concern for them -- to cover us. It's hard for those guys to be in the right place at the right time."
Holmes had 52 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns last season, and his 18.1 per-catch average led all NFL receivers with more than 20 catches. But he also missed three games because of injury, which is why he decided to bulk up and get stronger in the offseason.
Holmes added 11 pounds with weightlifting and running and now weighs 197.
"I think that's the main key for me to stay healthy for 16 games -- put on a little more muscle and be able to withstand the little nicks and bruises here and there throughout the season," Holmes said.
Or maybe just play in the state of Ohio.
First Published September 12, 2008 12:00 am