In his daily press conference, Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett called Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson "arguably the best football player in the National Football League." Moments later, he revealed that Andre Holmes, an undrafted rookie out of Hillsdale (Mich.) College, is impersonating Johnson on the Cowboys' scout team.
An undrafted rookie is playing the part of an MVP candidate who leads the NFL in scoring with 36 points despite having barely two-thirds of the receptions (16) as the league-leading 22 catches so far for Chicago running back Matt Forté? It's not as odd a fit as might initially be believed.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 208-pound Holmes is the same height and listed 28 pounds lighter than the Lions' star who is a fixture on national highlight shows every week. While he isn't the receiver Johnson is, he also has good speed and leaping ability.
Holmes smiled nervously when approached by a small throng of reporters Thursday.
"I try to play fast," Holmes said when asked the key to impersonating Johnson. "I try to give the defense a good look, show them a lot of jump balls."
Holmes said that the perception that Johnson's role is solely as a target on deep throws by quarterback Matt Stafford is inaccurate.
"They do a lot of things to get the ball in his hands," Holmes said. "They throw deep to him, but they have intermediate routes, too. They like to run screen plays for him, too — they do a lot of things to try to get him the ball."
Johnson keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night with his combination of size, speed, strength, route-running and hands that is rivaled only by Houston's Andre Johnson. Despite seeing defenses that almost always have a safety helping a cornerback on Johnson, he has 16 catches for 225 yards through three games … but he also makes the most of his opportunities, reaching the end zone a league-high six times already.
While doing his best Johnson impression in practice, Holmes admitted that he also tries to imitate the Lions' star.
"As a young receiver who's tall, he's a guy you naturally look up to," Holmes said. "There are tall guys who don't have his speed and there are fast guys who don't have his size and strength. Of course, I try to copy some of the things he does, because he is so successful."
Holmes might try to copy as much of Johnson's game as he can, but has yet to earn an equally catchy nickname. The multi-talented Johnson has been dubbed "Megatron" … while fellow Dallas rookie Dwayne Harris looks up at his taller teammate (Harris is listed at 5-10) and overestimates his height, calling Holmes "six-nine."
Johnson's reputation as a rare athlete stretches league-wide, but Holmes said perhaps the most impressive thing about Johnson might be his "deceptive speed."
"It's something in his stride," Holmes said. "When you watch him, you know he's fast, but when he catches the ball, (defensive backs) don't cut him off. He gets deep fast."
Holmes is more than a token "tall receiver" — last week, he impersonated Washington's Santana Moss, who at 5-10 is seven inches shorter than Johnson and Holmes. His hard work in practice and the versatility to represent different kinds of receivers for the Cowboys' defense has begun earning appreciation.
"‘T-New' (cornerback Terence Newman) came up to me today and yesterday and said I was doing a good job in practice," Holmes said. "He said that because of what I showed them, they knew what was coming (against the Redskins). So I'm doing my job."
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