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Speedy Holmes still slowed by missteps

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports NFL writer Jason Cole co-authored "Giant: Road to the Super Bowl" with New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress.

TAMPA, Fla. – Is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes ready to be considered, dare we say, dependable?

Certainly, he can be considered consistent. Through three seasons, Holmes has between 49 and 55 catches and between 821 and 942 yards each year. He has 15 touchdowns, including five this year that match his average for each season.

While that's not exactly Pro Bowl stuff, what Holmes does is acceptable and productive. That's particularly so in an offensive system that doesn't give receivers a lot of chances. As the No. 2 receiver for the Steelers, getting much more than six passes thrown your way is a big game.

That's why Plaxico Burress left the team after the 2004 season, paving the way for the Steelers to select Holmes in the 2006 NFL draft. Interestingly, there have been moments when Holmes, despite his consistent overall numbers, has seemed to be on the road toward Burress' sometimes erratic personal behavior.

Like Burress, Holmes admitted this week that he sold drugs as a youth growing up in impoverished Belle Glade, a small, football-rich town located approximately three hours away.

"I've only told three or four people about it," Holmes said Wednesday after admitting it in an interview with the Miami Herald earlier. "I feel it's time to share things. I'm on the biggest stage, everybody's going to be watching. I'm pretty sure some kids can get a feel for changing their lives and not doing those type of things, and can get an opportunity to get out of the ghetto, the 'hood, to be successful."

While admitting the truth can be cleansing and noble, his missteps aren't limited to his childhood days.

Holmes was arrested following a pair of incidents in '06 – the first for disorderly conduct; the second for domestic violence and assault. All charges were eventually dropped, though his lawyers assured the judge that their client would receive counseling following the second incident.

In October, Holmes was arrested and cited for possession of marijuana. Subsequently, he was deactivated by the team for its Week 8 contest against the Giants. Holmes apologized for his actions and promised that he would "focus all of my efforts on helping our team win on the field and achieve its ultimate goal."

Now, as the Steelers try to achieve that ultimate goal on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona, the question regarding Holmes is whether he has turned the corner from talented to dependable? Or is he just another headache waiting to happen?

"Man, I'm doing everything I can to put that all behind me, every way I can," Holmes said this week. Talk, of course, it just that. Proof is in action.

"What I've seen out of Santonio is a real sense of seriousness," fellow wide receiver Hines Ward said. "I think he realized that the organization ain't playing. When coach [Mike Tomlin] sat him down against the Giants, it was like, 'Hey, they mean it. They're not putting up with anything.'

"You don't have to look around this league very much to figure out that it can get taken away from you in a hurry."

Even if you can score in a hurry, too.

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Holmes celebrated the TD against Baltimore by flapping his wings.
(Jason Bridge/US Presswire)

Holmes, who spent part of his youth chasing and catching rabbits for money, has game-changing speed and great moves in the open field. That was obvious in the AFC championship game when he caught a wobbly pass in a dead stop at the Baltimore 49-yard line, then maneuvered through the Ravens secondary, going all the way from the right side to the left side as he finished a 65-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers early control of the game at 13-0 in the second quarter.

"Santonio Holmes is blossoming into the player we hoped he would be," Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "He is a threat down the field but he is as big of a threat on a short pass that he can take it to the house."

But the question about Holmes hasn't really been about talent. It has been about focus and development. Though he was still the first wide receiver taken, he fell to No. 25 overall in the draft because so many teams considered him a risk.

"I don't blame the Steelers for taking him, but I can tell you that it would have been late in the second round before we would have considered him," said an NFL general manager who declined to be identified. "The kid has big-play skills, both running over the top of the defense and running through the defense with the ball. He's special.

"But I have to be honest, I thought he was a nightmare waiting to happen. Irresponsible, all sort of issues in his life, chaotic family life. Just everything that makes you think long and hard. Not a truly bad guy, but just irresponsible. Really irresponsible."

Holmes has a chance to erase that stigma. Otherwise, he risks being regarded as consistent instead of dependable.