In the final two-minute drill of Super Bowl XLII, then-Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes was unstoppable. He caught four passes for 73 yards on the drive, including a six-yard game winner with 35 seconds left on the clock. Holmes finished with nine catches for 131 yards, earning him Super Bowl MVP honors.
Holmes’ career peaked the following year – 79 catches, 1,248 yards, 5 TDs – before he was traded to the New York Jets following numerous run ins with the law. In four years with the Jets, he never had more than 52 catches or 746 receiving yards in a single season.
Now with the Chicago Bears, Holmes is being given what is likely his last shot to play in the NFL.
“I’m excited,” Holmes said today. “I’m going to embrace this opportunity and take advantage of it. I think it’s a great group for me to be around and I look forward to what we have coming forward.”
Holmes, 30 years old, steps into an ideal scenario. Behind Pro Bowlers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the Bears are thin at wide receiver. No other pass catcher has stepped up to replace Marquess Wilson, whose return timetable is still unknown, which could work in Holmes’ favor.
“I think that Marquess is going to be out for a while. We know that. How long we don’t know, but we know it’s going to be a while,” Marc Trestman said. “We had an opportunity to bring Santonio home. It seemed to all of us the right time to do it to see what he can bring. We brought him in, hopefully he’ll be able to come in and compete.”
Holmes will compete with Josh Morgan, Josh Bellamy and Micheal Spurlock to be Wilson’s temporary replacement. That’s not a murderer’s row of wideouts, so Holmes’ experience alone gives him a leg up on all three.
“He’s got experience. He’s an excellent route runner. He’s got good hands,” said Trestman. “He’s played the game. He understands the game at this level and he had a workout that was relevant enough for us to bring him in here and give him an opportunity to see if he can help us.”
Holmes comes with a lot of off-field baggage, which includes locker-room clashes with teammates as recently as last year, although that’s not something about which the Bears are worried.
“We’ve spent time with him. People change, they get into new venues, new environments,” Trestman said. “You’re out for a while and you get a hard look at where you are. Not only in your work life as well as in other aspects of your life. We feel he’s coming here in a good place, he’s coming into a great locker room. Guys have reached out to him and are willing to help him and give him an opportunity to help our football team but it will be a process and it will be day to day. But it’s off to a good start and we’ll see where it takes us.”
Holmes said none of his new teammates have approached him about his past.
“Nobody has talked about it, nobody has brought it up, so it won’t be an issue here,” he said. “That’s in the past. It’s neither here nor there right now. I think being in this new organization is a new move for me and a great opportunity for me to take advantage of and be part of a great organization.”
Yet an even bigger question mark about the 30-year-old is the health of his foot. In 2012, Holmes suffered a sever lisfranc injury that ended his season after five games. He was ineffective in his return, catching just 23 passes for 456 yards and 1 TD last season, while missing five games due to a hamstring injury.
Holmes said one of the reasons he’s in Chicago is to prove his foot is 100 percent.
“[I want] to get on the field and showcase what my foot has to offer to the team, which is being healthy right now,” he said. “I was rehabbing from January to February before I could even start back running again. It was taking my time and doing the right things necessary before I got on the field.”
With the Steelers, Holmes returned punts full time for two years and kickoffs for one year. With Chris Williams (hamstring) on the shelf and Eric Weems on the street, the Bears are desperate for a return man and it appears Holmes will be given a look in that role.
“He was catching some punts today. We'll where that goes,” Trestman said. “We’re just trying to find as much value in him as we can as we move along and he’s certainly come with a willingness to help in any way he can.”
“I’m not sure,” said special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. “I know he’s had some production. We’re working through that one as we go. But we have to really try to see what he can bring to the table. I know he’s very receptive to it. He’s a competitive guy and anything he can do to help us win I’m sure he’s going to do.”
If his foot has fully recovered, there’s no reason Holmes shouldn’t emerge as a viable No. 3 option within the next month. He’ll be worked into the offense slowly but he’ll surely get plenty of looks with the first team. If he can make the most of those opportunities, he can have an impact right away.
At the very least, having a former Super Bowl MVP on the roster can only be a good thing, even if he’s only around for a few weeks. His knowledge will be invaluable to a young receiving corps.
Bottom line: Holmes isn’t the final piece to the championship puzzle. He’s a 30-year-old receiver with a questionable foot. He’s a replacement option, one with little risk but a lot of upside. If he doesn’t work out, the Bears have lost nothing, but if he’s anywhere near the player he was a few years ago, he’ll bring a lot of value to the offense until Wilson’s return.
And if he’s able to click with Jay Cutler, he could develop quicker in Trestman’s offense than most expect.
“The best option was coming here and being around a group of receivers who have great experience and a quarterback who is willing to lead his team and lead by example,” said Holmes. “[Cutler] knows who I am and I know who he is. I know what he has to offer and I have to prove to him what I have to offer to the team, which is showing up, being on time, being accountable, catching every pass from him and showing him how hard I want to work on offense.
“I’m excited to be here with him. He’s taken me under his wing. He’s talked to me and kept me close. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be exciting for us all.”
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.