Finally, Jets get taste of Holmes cookin'
Santonio makes Gang Green debut Monday, but speedster won't be rushed into offense
"It will be big play by committee," the quarterback said confidently.
The Jets have been waiting for this moment since April, when they stole Holmes from the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round draft pick. The gifted wide receiver came with a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy -- hence, the fire-sale price -- but there's never been much doubt about his talent.
Holmes impressed in the preseason, attended team meetings during his suspension and proclaimed himself ready for the Minnesota Vikings, who also will be unveiling a new receiver -- Randy Moss. For both teams, it's all hands on deck.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Mel EvansSantonio Holmes joined the Jets after four seasons with the Steelers.
"It's football. I've been doing this since I've been 7 years old," said Holmes, a former Super Bowl MVP. "It's not like I became a professional football player yesterday. I've been playing ball since I was a kid. I've learned the ins and the outs and the ups and downs of the game. I'm on top of everything."
For the Jets (3-1), winners of three straight, the trick will be integrating Holmes into the offense without disrupting their mojo. They have scored 97 points over the past three games, including eight touchdown passes by Sanchez, who has developed a special rapport with tight end Dustin Keller (five touchdowns).
Sanchez is averaging only 25 pass attempts per game, so it's not as if the Jets are a pass-heavy team. Opportunities are limited. With Keller and Holmes, along with starting receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards, they should have a diverse and balanced attack. But there will be weeks when one or two are seemingly ignored. Success will hinge on whether the players can subjugate their egos for the good of the team.
"We're thrilled he's back, and he's an amazing talent, but we're not going to force anything to him," Sanchez said of Holmes.
It's unusual for a team to have three wide receivers, each with a 1,000-yard season on his résumé. The only other team that can boast that is the Baltimore Ravens, who have Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The difference is that the Ravens' trio is age 30 and up, while each member of the Jets' threesome is younger than 30.
Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has a specific plan for Holmes against the Vikings (1-2). He will be involved in only certain packages (i.e. the three-receiver grouping) as he attempts to get comfortable in a new offense. So far, the Jets have used the one-back, three-receiver package about 30 percent of the time, but that could expand with the Holmes-Cotchery-Edwards troika. Brad Smith's role will be reduced.
Holmes, used almost exclusively as a split end in Pittsburgh, will be moved around the formation, perhaps even in the slot. He longed for that kind of role in Pittsburgh, but he was limited to mostly the backside of the formation. He loves the possibilities in Schottenheimer's system.
"With the opportunities I get," he said, "it's all going to be showcased."
The Vikings have a formidable defense, built around their front four -- Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams and Ray Edwards. They're surrendering only 189 passing yards per game, seventh in the league at the start of the week. But their nickelback is Jets castoff Lito Sheppard, and the Jets could attack him in their three-wide packages.
Their passing game hasn't been this good since November 2008, just before Brett Favre's late-season collapse in his only season with the Jets. (Do you think fans will remind him of that ugly chapter Monday night as a member of the Vikings? Uh, yes.) The pressure will be on Sanchez to keep everybody happy. Is it possible to have too many weapons?
"I think [Holmes] will improve the offense for one specific reason: the explosive-play element in the passing game due to his speed," said an NFL personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "Edwards and Cotchery can lend more to the possession game and an occasional big play, but Holmes has the ability to be a downfield player more than they do."
It could be a pick-your-poison situation for opposing defenses. According to the executive, Holmes and Keller pose the biggest threats, adding, "You have to win at the line of scrimmage versus Keller and Edwards. I see no one jamming or rerouting them enough and, with free releases, the quarterback is throwing with rhythm and timing."
The Vikings are a zone-oriented team. In 2006, with Chad Pennington at quarterback, the Jets spread the field with receivers, attacked through the air and beat the Vikings on the road. If Schottenheimer wants to dust off that game plan, he has the horses to execute it better than ever.
AFC TITLE GAME: STEELERS 24, JETS 19
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