(ALLEN PARK) - One of the most controversial moves Lions president Matt Millen made over this offseason was the decision to allow four-year veteran Chris Claiborne, just 24 years old, to leave as an unrestricted free agent.
For a brief while it was unknown who would man the position where Claiborne had produced over 100 tackles, the benchmark for the top linebackers in the game. Still, Millen felt he could do better. After visiting with several free agent linebackers, Millen signed Wali Rainer, a young unrestricted linebacker from Jacksonville. It appeared to be taking a step back, but two weeks later, Millen re-entered the free agent market, signing seven-year veteran Earl Holmes who had starred for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns before becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Holmes brought stellar credentials. Last year he recorded 128 tackles, good enough for among all NFL players. It was the fourth season in his seven year career that Holmes had been over the 100 tackle mark. When we caught up with Holmes at the Lions minicamp this weekend, he was comfortable and happy with his decision to come to Detroit, despite the presence of Rainer and the lofty expecations of Lions fans who remember the play of Chris Spielman, Stephen Boyd and to a lesser extent Claiborne.
"I'm very impressed with everything. This is a standup organization with a standup coach. The organization wants to win. You can tell just by the communication with each other how we take it day-by-day and minute-by minute. Everything's been positive, that's a good sign. That's the way you have to take it and feed off of it."
Holmes was aware of the play Detroit had in the middle from Spielman and Boyd and to a lesser extent Claiborne but said that won't affect the way he prepares and plays the game in Detroit.
"To be honest with you, the whole thing is "Earl be Earl". I left Pittsburgh to go to Cleveland, Cleveland to come here. It's all about what you have to offer this team. Well, as far as the leadership role, as far as me going out to play the way that I know how to play and everything else will speak for itself. I'm not a guy who's going to sit up here and say I'm going to do this better than this guy. I'm going to be me. I"ll let my actions speak louder than my words.
With the kind of production Holmes has shown throughout his career, some observers were surprised that he was one of the last linebackers signed. Detroit secured his services in a two-team fight with the Seattle Seahawks. Holmes says it wasn't because he wasn't wanted but rather, he was looking for an organization that fit his criteria.
"I weighed my options. I sat back and I watched to make sure this was the right thing for me [and] the Lions organization [did the same]. I had other teams that I could have gone to but my main thing was to make sure that I got somewhere I was comfortable and make sure I was happy as well as the [organization] is happy with me. I sat down and talked with the head coach and the defensive coordinator and sat down and talked with everybody and everything was positive and I was like 'this is where I'm going to go'. I made the right choice and I'm going to stick with it."
Holmes said he not only would like to finish his career here, but he has some unfinished business with teammate Robert Porcher. Holmes, a FAMU grad will face-off with Porcher, a South Carolina State grad, in the inaugural Motor City Classic to be played at Ford Field this fall. Bragging rights are on the line for these two teammates who've become fast friends.
"Us [historically] black college guys always kind of stick together, said Holmes laughing. "We try to make sure we holler at each other. Anytime we play our classic game, we always brag on our alma maters. He's pushing for South Carolina State; I'm pushing for FAMU, that's a good thing."
Holmes said he had one more order of business as he winds up his career in the Motor City.
"Turn some of those 'L's' into 'W's.'"