NFL rules mean rookie Holmes won't return to Steelers until July
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Steelers assistant coaches Ken Whisenhunt and Bruce Arians escorted star pupil Santonio Holmes off the playing field yesterday, taking longer to say their goodbyes than summer lovers parting for college.
That is precisely where Holmes is going, back to Ohio State for the university's classes for the quarter, which does not end until June 8, the day the Steelers finish their spring workouts. Because of an agreement between the NFL and NCAA, no rookie may join his NFL team for workouts until either he graduates from college or his class graduates. The lone exception is one brief minicamp, which the Steelers concluded yesterday after three days.
Thus, Holmes -- and all NFL rookies from Ohio State in his class -- is barred from the extended spring workouts. The Steelers' first-round draft pick will rejoin his new teammates at the end of July in training camp, provided he signs a contract by then. Most other rookies may continue to work out, learn the offense and defense, and pick up lessons from veterans and coaches with their new team.
Holmes, a receiver, also won't be able to build a rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger this spring.
"He'll just have to study," said Whisenhunt, the Steelers' offensive coordinator. "We'll give him the material but certainly it won't be like he was here. That's unfortunate. The biggest thing the coaching sessions do for the young guys is give them an opportunity to be better prepared for camp. He'll be at a little bit of a disadvantage because of that."
Holmes will keep in touch with phone calls to and from his new coaches, and view videotapes and other materials.
"We'll send whatever we can send him," Whisenhunt said, "but if you don't have somebody there who understands what we're trying to get done and he's showing him, that's like looking at a book of Chinese -- you can see it but you may not necessarily understand it.
"If he can just retain a lot of what we've done in this minicamp it will at least give him a foundation for what he can start in training camp."
Coach Bill Cowher said, "I think there will be a little bit of a setback from the standpoint of his progression of learning because of the fact that he won't be here the next month."
Holmes flashed some of his talent the past three days, capping it by breaking wide open and catching a 63-yard touchdown pass from Charlie Batch yesterday. Now he'll wait for 2 1/2 months for a chance to do it again.
"I got a starting point and my starting point is pretty good right now," Holmes said. "I'm going to take it day by day and hear from the coaches and be ready to go when I come back in.
"I've been playing football for about 14 years and everything right now is mental. I just have to learn my playbook and be ready to go."
That's not the case for the Steelers' other rookie receiver, Florida State's Willie Reid, a third-round draft pick who also made an impression with his speed and ability in the practices without pads. Reid said he's grateful he can return tomorrow to resume his learning when the Steelers begin the next phase of their drills with their first of 14 voluntary workout days.
"They threw a lot at us in a short period of time," Reid said, "but now we have time to slow things down a little bit and go over things again."
If Reid and/or Holmes can pick things up quickly, the Steelers have the makings of their best receiving group in years. They are deep, talented and, for a change, fast. The rookies join starters Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson, promising second-year player Nate Washington and veteran holdout Quincy Morgan.
Cowher called it the fastest group he has had.
"We have a good core of guys, yes," Whisenhunt said. "The big thing is we have some speed and some competition. It's going to make us all better."
Holmes played split end in minicamp and Reid was at flanker. Whisenhunt likes to move his receivers around rather than plant them at one position. How quickly they pick up the offense will determine if or whether the rookies can handle other spots. It's possible Ward, who usually starts at flanker, will spend more time in the slot than he has in the past.
"Talent-wise, we have depth at our position," Ward said. "Nate Washington is coming along and having a great camp. Myself and Ced, we're the veteran guys who have to lead by example.
"You can already see Santonio making plays and getting more comfortable. Willie's going out and making plays. Together, who knows?"
They won't find out until at least another 90 days.
"As long as he gets into camp on time," Cowher said, "I would like to think that he will be able to pick things up and compete for some playing time."Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Hines Ward keeps a watchful eye on Santonio Holmes, the Steelers' top draft pick, at minicamp yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published May 16, 2006 12:00 am