Stopping a Priest

PITTSBURGH - Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton knew in college just how good Kansas City running back Priest Holmes could be when he broke loose for 120 yards and three touchdowns in the 1996 Big 12 championship game in an upset of Nebraska as a senior.

Of course that was just one of a handful of starts for Holmes during his collegiate career and he snuck under the radar of many NFL teams as a rookie in 1997, going undrafted and signing with Baltimore as a free agent that year.

"You knew Priest was a player, but we had Ricky Williams, too," said Hampton. "And Ricky ended up being the NCAA's all-time leading rusher. There was nothing wrong with him. He was just there at the same time as another good back."

So far in his career, a lack of playing time has been the only thing that has slowed Holmes down. Sunday, the Steelers will be looking to find a way to at least slow him down when they play the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

"I don't know if you stop Holmes," said Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. "Hopefully, you can contain him and slow him down a little bit. I think the offense does such a great job of moving people around and they play the game so very fast. You look at them and you can see a little bit of the St. Louis Rams concept when they were very, very explosive, where you see a lot of motions and shifts."

When Holmes was contained in 2002, teams had a good deal of success against the Chiefs. In the four games in which Holmes was held to less than four yards per carry, Kansas City went just 1-3, winning only at Miami in a game in which quarterback Trent Green threw five touchdown passes. In the three losses, Green averaged only 207 yards passing and threw four interceptions. But the Steelers haven't had much success containing Holmes in the past.

"We played against him two years ago, and he is one of those guys that we stopped him for about three quarters and then all of a sudden in the fourth quarter, he just got loose," said Cowher, referring to a 2001 game at Kansas City in which Pittsburgh won 20-17 despite Holmes' 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The Steelers aren't the only ones who've had problems with the 2002 Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year. Despite missing the final two games with a hip injury, Holmes ran for 1,615 yards and 21 touchdowns last season. He also caught 70 passes for 672 yards and three more touchdowns, making him arguably the most dangerous running back in the league.

The comparisons of Holmes and St. Louis' Marshall Faulk are obvious, considering both have flourished in an offense created by former St. Louis and current Kansas City head coach Dick Vermeil.

"Marshall is more of one of those guys that you saw him running down seams and you could see him trying to spread the field," Cowher said. "I don't think that they use Priest in that manner. But they are very similar from the standpoint that you will find him out of the backfield as much as in the backfield, and they are very versatile players."

Holmes was a relative unknown before signing with Kansas City prior to the 2001 season. He hadn't played much as a rookie in 1997, but broke out in 1998, rushing for 1,008 yards and starting 13 games. He injured his knee in the following season-opener and missed seven games and made only four starts.

One of those starts, however, was a 130-yard effort in a victory over the Steelers. He followed that up with a 119-yard game against the Steelers in the 2000 season-opener.

But Baltimore had taken running back Jamal Lewis in that year's draft, and Holmes gave way to the rookie later in the season before leaving the Ravens as a free agent. Once again, Holmes was pushed to the background by another player, just as had happened at Texas.

"If we would have foresaw what Priest Holmes would have been on a regular basis there would have been a lot of us going after him in free agency," Cowher said.

Now they're left with going after him on the football field instead.

Dale Lolley
Courtesy of the Washington Observer-Reporter

Steel City Insider Top Stories