Listen to Santonio Holmes speak. His voice is monotone and soft. Innocent. His cheeks are smooth and unchanging. His forehead is naturally wrinkled, four dark lines fading away from his eyebrows. It doesn’t change. His eyes shift left to right. He looks uncertain, but he speaks in absolutes. Theses.
Watch Santonio Holmes play. His play takes on his personality. He seems both interested and disinterested. He wants the ball when the play is designed for him. He doesn’t want it when it’s not. He undresses a defensive back with effort, and he undresses an entire play without effort. Even his best and most memorable plays, are subtle, yet absolute. His Super Bowl XLIII -winning touchdown catch was thunderous but soft, with his feet double-tapping into the endzone.
This unpredictability has given him everything imaginable in football, but has also taken it away.
Almost five months into free agency, Holmes remains unsigned. His last team was the New York Jets in 2013, who lacked talent at the wide receiver position when they released him in March. They didn’t want him anymore. He was unproductive and injured, amassing 456 yards and one touchdown while nursing hamstring and Lisfranc injuries. It’s uncertain who his suitors are. Whoever they are, they’re asking if he’s worth the trouble. If his attitude is worth it. If his talent is worth the money.
At 30, he looks like a washed up wideout. He struggles when pressed by a strong cornerback at the line of scrimmage. His chest puffs out until it’s punched back in.
Two minutes into a breezy Week 3 game against the Buffalo Bills this past season, he lined up at a short split to create room for an out route. He took two steps and leaned forward, his chest exposed, before he was rocked back. He lost his balance and fell on his right knee, then his hands. By the time he got up the quarterback had thrown the ball elsewhere.
There are other times when he looks like his old self. He looks like he badly wants it. Like he wants to be a great wide receiver. A two-time Super Bowl champion.
We saw that Santonio Holmes in Week 2 against the New England Patriots. Lined up as a the single wideout, he runs an isolated curl route to perfection. Narrow stem. Shoulders straight. Convincing eyes. Knees high. Knees low. Quick feet. Working back to the quarterback. He wants it.
Later in the game, there he was again, this time looking old under the dark sky.
Holmes lined up in isolation like all the greats do. Man-to-man. He released outside, feigning a go-route to make the corner balk and leave room in the middle of the field. But the corner didn’t budge; he pressed and pulled Holmes, dragging him back to the middle of the field, essentially running his route for him, and to the grass. The ball was thrown and fell incomplete.
Could have he done more at the line? His release was neutral like his face when he speaks. He doesn’t offer the cornerback multiple scenarios. There’s no two-way go. It’s direct unlike the double-move he ran against the Bills in Week 3.
He was a yard off the line. With his left foot inside and forward, he released outside, jabbing his right foot and swaying his shoulders left. That pinned the cornerback outside and behind.
Ten yards later he rounded his way toward the middle and baited the cornerback under the route, then sharply burst downfield. He hauled the throw in over his shoulders and outside his chest before stumbling forward. A 40-yard gain. Vintage Holmes.
Lately Holmes hasn’t been speaking much. His personal trainer, Tom Shaw, has spoken on his behalf in the same absolutes.
“He’ll definitely be on a team,” Shaw told New York Post’s Brian Castello in June. He says teams “are” interested in him, but as long as they don’t think he’s a distraction.
Feature photo courtesy of Reuters/Mike Segar