Steelers Notebook: Holmes forges bond with Roethlisberger
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Santonio Holmes has played four series, or less than half a game in the preseason, yet has done more damage than anyone else.
He has three catches, two touchdowns and an average of 24 yards a reception. The bond between him and his quarterback grows stronger.
The communication between Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger never has been better. In the first game against Philadelphia, Roethlisberger sensed a blitz, and Holmes knew what his quarterback wanted to do, even though it wasn't in the playbook. Instead of running a slant, Holmes stayed put near the sideline on the left. Roethlisberger wheeled quickly that way, threw him a strike, and Holmes left a safety flat-footed on way to a 19-yard touchdown.
Against Buffalo, Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward on a 24-yard slant over the middle in which Holmes also flashed open.
"I told him the first time we ran that play that I had an opportunity to run past the guy," Holmes said. "He came back into the huddle and told me, 'go deep.'"
Roethlisberger hit him in the end zone with a 40-yard strike.
"He trusts me," Holmes said. "I trust him to put the ball where it's supposed to be."
Roethlisberger said it's a natural progression.
"It's just working together. I understand where he's going to be; he understands what I'm looking for. We put a lot of work in this offseason, just him and me on the field. The smallest questions you can ask him: If you're wide open, where do you want the ball? Up around your shoulders? In your stomach? Just little things like that, and I think it's paid off so far."
Holmes led all NFL receivers with an average of 18.2 yards per catch on 52 receptions, and he caught eight touchdown passes. He missed three games with injuries.
"I want to play 16 games this year,'' Holmes said. "That's my biggest goal this year, and the numbers and the yards will speak for themselves."
One of the subtle defensive changes being implemented this season has cornerback Deshea Townsend moving permanently from the right side to the left side to take more advantage of his ability to read combination routes.
The switch, which was used in the playoff loss to Jacksonville last season, means Ike Taylor will line up mostly against the split end and will cover more single-receiver routes.
"It's a little bit more responsibility," Townsend said. "I get a little bit more run responsibility because most people run to the tight end."
Even when Townsend moves into the slot in the nickel defense, Taylor will stay on the right side and Bryant McFadden will play at left corner as the fifth defensive back.
Cornerback Roy Lewis, an undrafted rookie from Washington, never had played safety until coach Mike Tomlin began to use him there a couple weeks ago.
The reason: Lewis has impressed Tomlin and the coaching staff with his physical style, and they want to see if he has what Tomlin calls "position flexibility."
"I think it's great," Lewis said of the opportunity. "The more you can do, the more you can contribute in any shape or form, the more you have a chance to make this ballclub."
Lewis (5-10, 190) was a linebacker in high school and a cornerback with the Huskies.
"It's a different read, a different mentality," Lewis said of the safety position. "You're more like the commander back there, the quarterback of the defense. It gives you an opportunity to lay a hat on people."
First Published August 23, 2008 12:00 am