NY Jets’ Santonio Holmes relishes role as mentor to Gang Green’s young wide receivers
While mercurial veteran has reputation as an enigma, coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Tony Sparano laud him for his leadership role this preseason.
CORTLAND — He stood in the parking lot just past 9:30 a.m. last Sunday, unrecognizable from 20 yards away, moving his arms and aligning three teammates across the parcel of pavement.
The brief morning tutorial in the car ride from the dormitories hadn't sunk in for the others, so Santonio Holmes hopped out of the black SUV, wearing a t-shirt and shorts, to better get his point across before walking into the locker room. He moved rookie wide receiver Stephen Hill across the asphalt like a chess piece and directed Patrick Turner and Joe McKnight.
Seven months after Holmes sat alone on the Jets' bench under the Miami sun in Week 17, the enduring image of a season gone wrong, the mercurial wide receiver has found a renewed purpose to earn back trust from the people that matter the most to him. He's embraced his role as a mentor to an inexperienced wide receiver corps, a departure from his image as a divisive force that helped derail the Jets last season.
"Being a mentor to these young guys that we have in our receiving corps has been fun for me," said Holmes, who will miss the second preseason game against the Giants on Saturday due to a rib-cartilage injury. "I want these young guys to know that in order to be the best, these are the things that you have to work on."
Holmes has been an enigma, a supreme talent that has expressed his frustrations in odd ways. He recently took ownership of his mistakes from 2011, but also labeled himself as a scapegoat. He's ready to put last year's mess behind him.
"We're not digging up dead bodies," wide receiver Patrick Turner said.
To that end, Holmes has taken special interest in helping rookie receivers like Hill and Royce Pollard, providing 24-hour service not limited to the wide receiver meeting room.
"We could be in the cafeteria and he'll teach right there," Hill laughed. "That's normal. That's every day. If I have a question, just ask him. It really does matter to him."
Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano joked that the 28-year-old Holmes is the graybeard of the receiver corps.
"You have a responsibility to make sure that these young guys understand, and anyway you can help them… you help them," Sparano told Holmes after he was hired. Holmes accepted the responsibility.
"It was a little bit of a surprise on my end," Sparano said. "Sometimes that's not natural for veteran players, because it's such a competitive business. But Santonio's been tremendous. I'm glad the young guys have used it… He's likes to teach. Sometime down the road when he's done playing this game, I think he might be a coach one day."
Rex Ryan has been impressed with Holmes' penchant for reinforcing wide receiver coach Sanjay Lal's lessons in the meeting room.
"He chimes in a lot like that," Lal said. "And I welcome it. I want the group to be open and have open discourse."
Holmes will chat everywhere every day with every receiver. He's constantly doling out technique advice in person or via text messages as he learns Sparano's new system. When the offensive coordinator knocked on Holmes' dormitory door for bed check recently, he was happy to see Holmes with his nose in the playbook.
"I'm a little surprised (he's been mentoring so much) because he's learning a brand new system," said Ryan, who hopes that Holmes will play in the third preseason game against the Panthers next week. "Sometimes when you do that, you're kind of focused in and in your own world. He's trying to bring these guys along as well. I know one thing: Santonio cares a great deal about this football team."
When Lal conveys a point in meetings to Hill, Turner, Jeremy Kerley or Chaz Schilens, Holmes invariably turns to Pollard.
"Royce, write that down," Holmes instructs.
"He always takes the initiative to make sure that I'm doing what it takes to be a professional," Pollard said. "He's giving me advice and criticism on everything. He's really done a lot as far as being a leader and a big brother helping out the younger guys. He's always that positive influence. That meant a lot."
Mark Sanchez knows how much Holmes wants to help out this season after their relationship went through rough patches in 2011.
"We both were like, 'We just got to get back to where we were,'" Sanchez said. "That first year he came in and lit up the place and it was awesome. So how did we get there? I know we were doing extra routes. We were watching extra film. There was a lot of work that went into it. It looks great on Sundays but it doesn't just happen. You can't just wake up in a hotel and think, 'Alright, let's go play well.' I think we started to get into that last year. We weren't as close as we should have been. We know we can fix it."
Holmes has conveyed that message to the younger players: Put in the work each day.
His inability to practice for the past two weeks due to the rib injury suffered during an intrasquad scrimmage has been the latest obstacle.
"He's really in a tough spot right now, because he's earning the respect of guys back," Sanchez said. "He wants to earn their respect back. When you get hurt, you can't go out there and prove it."
Holmes, who isn't expected to miss the start of the regular season in three weeks, has remained engaged with his teammates when he's been at practice, helping out however he can.
"You're hoping it's not just lip service," Sanchez said. "He's got to do it on the field and that's what these guys are really looking forward to."