Steelers pleased with rookie's development

After watching New Orleans wideout Marques Colston torch the Pittsburgh Steelers for 10 catches for 169 yards, one would think Steelers' rookie Santonio Holmes might have been a little envious of his fellow rookie ...

But Holmes doesn't look around the league at other rookie receivers making a big splash – Colston and Green Bay's Greg Jennings – and concern himself with what they've accomplished.

Holmes has kept a positive attitude and tried to make big plays every time he's set foot on the field.

"I expected it to be more of a learning process just getting acclimated and getting a feel for the game," said Holmes, who leads all AFC rookie wide receivers with 24 receptions despite playing behind Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson.

"It's a tough league unfortunately for a rookie receiver. Those guys (Colston and Jennings) were put in situations where guys got hurt and they had to play a big role for their teams. In my situation, I'm behind two good veterans who I'm learning from every day. I'm happy with the way things are going. To be the third or fourth receiver on the team and have as many catches as I do, be as productive as I have been, I'm helping the team."

Head coach Bill Cowher agrees.

"It's like everything else – and I know that New Orleans has a rookie who's having a heck of a year in Marques Colston – but it's the speed of the game, the impact of the hits, sometimes it's something you have to get acclimated to," said Cowher of Holmes. "In terms of a receiver and picking up this offense, I think he's gotten more comfortable and I think he'll continue to get better."

Wide receiver is perhaps the most difficult position in the NFL for a young player to come in and make a big impact. For every Colston or Randy Moss who have come into the league and dominated right away, there are dozens of other receivers who have struggled as they learn a more complex playbook and how to run more precise routes.

"When you look at it, how many guys have come in and dominated as rookies?" asked Steelers wide receiver Willie Reid, himself a rookie. "It just doesn't happen that often. This is a demanding league."

It's helped Holmes that he and Reid have gone through a lot of the same struggles learning the playbook and what's expected of them together.

"Santonio and I sit next to each other in all of the receiver meetings," said Reid, who has been limited this season by a mid-foot sprain. "That's helped out a lot because if one of us doesn't understand something, we can talk about it and bounce things off of each other. It's helped us both."

The Steelers have high hopes for both of their young receivers, but for Holmes in particular.

The team traded up in the first round of the draft for just the second time in team history to acquire him to help out a receiving corps that had lost Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El to free agency in the previous two years.

Some questioned the team's move to trade up to acquire Holmes this year after he had two run-ins with the law in the weeks after the draft. But both matters were taken care of and Holmes has squared away that part of his life.

"I play football. All that off the field stuff, that's in the past," Holmes said. "To be honest with you, I haven't thought about that stuff since the season began. Those things happened and there's nothing I can do about that now."

What he has thought of is his grandparents who helped his mother raise him.

Holmes grew up in a close-knit family and one of his fondest memories of childhood is fishing with his grandparents. He only wishes his grandfather could see what he's now become.

"Losing my grandfather in 2005 it was something that struck me really hard because he would never get a chance to see my kids grow up and get a chance to be here to see me play in the NFL," said Holmes.

Holmes has three children, Santonio III (4) and Nicori (2), who live with his mom in Florida. He also has an infant daughter, Shaniya, who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Holmes strives to be a part of their lives, even though it's difficult doing so while living in Pittsburgh during the season.

"They understand that I play football," Holmes said. "That's probably the only thing they know. Every time they see me on television they mention football, daddy football. That's all they know. As far the things that are going on they don't understand but in a couple years they will."

While his play as a wide receiver has been good, the Steelers would like Holmes to be a little better as a return man, another of the jobs he picked up with the loss of Randle El.

Holmes has spent time this season returning both punts and kickoffs, but has had some problems with fumbles on those plays – something that hasn't troubled him when he's played wideout.

It's just another of those things rookies have to adjust to in the NFL.

"It is the speed," said Holmes of his fumble problems. "And when you're catching the ball, the defenders are there. There's no time. When you're catching a punt, you've got a little more time to adjust to things. You get hit a lot faster when you're catching the ball than as a receiver than on kickoffs and punt returns."

But at least he's learning. And that willingness to learn, the maturity he's shown to not get down on himself and to continue to get better and strive to be the best he can possibly be is why the Steelers are so high on Holmes' future.

"The kid is learning and he gives you everything he's got," said Cowher. "I'm comfortable with Santonio. He's getting better every week. He's learning every week and he'll be fine."

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter

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