Holmes -- Steelers' Mr. Excitement

Santonio Holmes (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Last year, Santonio Holmes predicted over 100 catches for himself. This year, he's keeping quiet and working hard, which means he'll probably hit the mark this year.

LATROBE – Santonio Holmes refuses to get excited.

He didn't get excited when Troy Polamalu handed him a dysfunctional water bottle that burst all over his face in front of a TV camera. Nor did the Steelers' split end become excited when he saw the cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles cheat up to blitz Ben Roethlisberger. The two Steelers read each other for an easy touchdown. The "hot read" was pretty exciting stuff.

"You're asking for excitement," said an increasingly irritated Holmes, "but at the same time that's just routine football that we do. It's not exciting to us, it's just football."

But it's exciting to everyone who watches the Steelers and cares about Roethlisberger's health. The quarterback was sacked 99 times the last two seasons, but after two weeks of "pass-under-pressure" drills this training camp, and classroom work focused on "unit protection", Roethlisberger easily threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Holmes on the first blitz he saw.

It worked because … well, let Holmes tell it:

"Ben and I were on the same page, but I made the wrong read," Holmes confessed. "I was supposed to run xxxxxxxx – and I don't want that publicized at all. The play was supposed to develop differently, but at the same time reading the position of the safety, knowing I couldn't run that play and get anywhere, I figured I'd run something we normally don't do. The safety didn't close in on me at all, so I just took off."

Even though Holmes ran a different route, Roethlisberger still picked it up and hit Holmes for an easy TD. That's experience. That's camaraderie. That's effective offense. Isn't all of that exciting?

"It's only preseason, man," Holmes said with a shake of the head. "We haven't even started the real games yet."

The Steelers play their second preseason game at 7:30 tonight in Toronto against the Buffalo Bills. The first unit is scheduled to play more than the one series it played against the Eagles, and one can assume it will see more than the one all-out blitz the Eagles gave them. But flanker Hines Ward expects that to be a diminishing play call against these new, protective, ball-out-the-hand Steelers.

"The blitz pickups have been improved, no question," Ward said. "Everybody's on the same page. Technically, on that touchdown, we both were hot on each side and we both picked it up. Ben could've thrown to either side, and that's encouraging. It's only going to continue to get better and help our offense because teams won't be so eager to blitz us."

That's more than encouraging. That's exciting, isn't it Hines?

"It is. It's exciting. It's great," he said. And then he explained what's most exciting about it all.

"Santonio in his career has taken three hot routes to the house," Ward said. "One in Cincinnati, the Baltimore game, and Jacksonville was a hot route. After he did it again last week, a lot of teams will be leery of all-out-blitzing us and leaving him backside one-on-one. If he's one-on-one and the DB misses, nobody's going to catch him."

In other words, Holmes is a big reason for the excitement in the Steelers' offense. He's improved, no doubt, as anyone would who took lessons from the great Jerry Rice this offseason. What did Rice tell him?

"That's disclosed information," Holmes said.

OK, but what's obvious is that Holmes is in great shape after working out with Tom Shaw in Orlando, and that Holmes is putting in the time after practice. He and Ward catch between 60 to 90 balls off the JUGS machine every day. Holmes also took care this offseason to firm up "the top of my routes" by running cone drills after every workout.

"I'm feeling pretty good," Holmes said. "I'm weighing almost 200 pounds now and I don't feel like it. A year ago, when I was this same weight, I felt like I was 200 pounds."

Holmes said that because of all the extra work he's put in, the numbers, the receiving stats, will fall into place for him, which makes it a pretty exciting time for the third-year receiver – even if it's only the second preseason game.

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