"He's doing an outstanding job," Holmes said. "He's just tied the NCAA record for touchdowns (broke it, actually, against Kansas with his 36th game with a score). He's been very consistent while he's been playing. I know he's had 1,000 yards every year. I know one of his idols growing up was Ricky Williams, with him being in high school and Ricky being in college. There's so many similarities in their running styles, and their dreadlocks, and just their style of running the football. I think he's going to have a pretty bright future in the League."
Most observers, including OC Greg Davis, tend to describe Benson as more of a slasher who is cut from the same mold as Emmitt Smith. No matter how you slice it, Benson tallied 161 yards on 28 bruising carries against a vastly improved KU run defense Saturday. He now has 5,305 career yards, passing two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, Heisman winner Herschel Walker and LaDainian Tomlinson for sixth place on the NCAA's all-time list. I sat next to a group of NFL scouts in the KU press box, who project Benson as a Top 10 NFL pick next April.
Holmes, meanwhile, never heard his name called during the 1997 NFL Draft. The unrestricted free agent signed with Baltimore whose coaches later told him he was "too small" (at 5-9) to fit into their offense. Holmes signed with the Chiefs in April 2001 and -- for the next three seasons -- no NFL player has compiled more rushing yards from scrimmage (4,590) or total TDs (61) than Holmes. In less than four seasons, he already ranks first in Chiefs' history with 5,842 rushing yards. His 111.5 rushing ypg leads the NFL.
Holmes strained his right MCL against Tampa Bay on November 7 and did not play in the Chiefs' loss at the Saints Sunday. Based on his experience, I asked Holmes what advice he would give an up-and-comer like Benson.
"In making the transition to the League, the most important thing is having your mind made up that this is what you want to do. You're going to have the highs and you're going to have the lows when it comes to playing in the League because there are so many things that can happen. Injuries, that's one. You've got to have the mind and the will to come back from that. You also have the situation where you may have to wait (to play). That's tough when you're coming out of college and you're expecting to play. You're like, 'Man, I can't wait to see what team I'm going to go to,' and you go to a team and they already have a back. That, in itself, can really discourage a player. But a player really has to have his mind made up that this is what he really wants to do. They have to take the highs and the lows and just go with it."
Holmes first season in Kansas City coincided with the arrival of Robinson as the Chiefs' Defensive Coordinator. Three years later, Robinson was politely shown the door. His defense led the NFL in turnover margin with a +19 advantage in that category. His defenses ranked highly in interceptions and quarterback sacks. Yet the Chiefs were at, or near the bottom of the NFL in total defense the past two seasons.
In the highly compartmentalized NFL, Holmes admittedly had limited involvement with Robinson. But he does have a firm opinion of his former DC.
"Every one talks about his defense being one that's read-and-react," Holmes said. "He puts you in the right situation. Now, it's up to you as a player to go make the play. Shoot, I love opportunities like that. Just put me in the right spot and I'll go make the play. But he did catch a lot of heat here with the way things are going on. With a coach, you've got to take the good with the bad and he accepted the responsibility. And it was a tough (responsibility) because he took it all on his own shoulders."
Holmes, who still bleeds Burnt Orange, thinks highly enough of Robinson that he applauds his position with the Longhorns.
"I'm glad to see that he's there at my alma mater. He's going to help Texas get back to where it needs to be. It's a team that's going to win nine or ten ballgames but we're not beating OU, or we're going to lose the Big 12 game. Even though we lost to OU this year, the margin in which we lost and the way the defense played, they really did an outstanding job."
If there was ever a contest waged to determine Texas' most under-utilized player, Holmes would be right up there with Roy Williams and Eric Metcalf. Although Holmes battled injuries, he never got enough carries under former coach John Mackovic's finesse, tailback-by-committee gameplan to ever top 1,000 yards in a single season. In fact, he barely had that for his collegiate career. Holmes left the Forty Acres (1992-96) as Texas' 28th all-time leading rusher with 1,276 yards on 252 carries.
Yet Holmes foreshadowed his notable NFL career with 120 yards rushing and three TDs in Texas' 37-27 upset over No. 3 Nebraska in the inaugural Big 12 Championship Game. His best statistical performance was his 161 yards on 27 carries, including the game-winning TD, in Texas' 35-31 Sun Bowl win over Mack Brown's 19th-ranked North Carolina team in 1994. The game is conspicuously missing from the 'Great Games and Moments' section of the current UT media guide, considering the win secured Texas' first Top 25 national ranking in four seasons and its first bowl win in seven years.