Imagine the ideal receiving corps. How about this? An elite possession receiver who runs precise routes alongside a big, physical jumpball winner, and lastly a speedster with incredible playmaking ability.
In Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and the now available Santonio Holmes, the Jets have that group of receivers that can match any team in the NFL. And much of the talk at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center today was Holmes' first practice with the team since the end of his four-game suspension.
"I think he's going to be huge, a huge thing for us," head coach Rex Ryan said. "We have certain matchup issues that other teams are going to face to. You can go three wides with us with Holmes and Braylon and Jerricho and Dustin [Keller]. He looks sharp. He looks like he hasn't missed a beat."
The Green & White's passing attack has already been on display this season, as quarterback Mark Sanchez has eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. His favorite targets have been Edwards and Keller, each of whom has over 200 yards receiving. Add running back LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield and Sanchez will have to merely find the open man on passing plays, which offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been drawing up in anticipation of Holmes' return to the team.
"Today was a day to get out there and get a good feel for what's going on, what we're going to do the rest of the week and the game plan for Minnesota," Holmes said. "With the opportunities I get, it's all going to be showcased. It's going to be exciting for all of us."
Just because the former Super Bowl MVP hasn't been allowed to practice with the team since the preseason doesn't mean that he'll be behind the eightball in terms of familiarity with the offense. Holmes has been allowed to work out at the Jets' Florham Park, N.J., facility and also been allowed to attend team meetings. As a result, the 5'11", 192-pounder meshed well during the midday practice in preparation for the Jets' Monday night matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.
"It's nice. He looked good today," Sanchez said. "He should be ready on Monday. But it doesn't change anything that we're doing. He's going to fit right into our plan each week and it doesn't matter who you're throwing to as long you're getting completions and moving the ball down the field."
Last season Holmes had 79 receptions for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns as the main target for the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger. This season with the Jets, Holmes will be joining an offense whose philosophy is "ground and pound" and which has completed passes to 10 different receivers. Holmes will be one of a number of viable options, but he may be one of the most potent.
"He's explosive, he's competitive, he has great hands," said backup quarterback Mark Brunell, the 18th-year veteran. "Once the ball gets into his hands, he can do something with it. He has big-play capability. The only thing he doesn't have is the size that Braylon does, but he makes up for it with his playmaking ability. So quick, great hands, and he's smart."
Holmes' intelligence was on display throughout the preseason as he picked up Schottenheimer's offense quickly and dished out advice to rookie running back Joe McKnight on HBO's "Hard Knocks." The playbook that the fifth-year man out of Ohio State has learned has been executed successfully through Week 4, so some have wondered how he will jell with the rest of the offensive unit.
In addition, some have speculated that there will be a bit of a transition period before the Belle Glade, Fla., native can be fully effective — a notion that he firmly squashed.
"It's football," Holmes said. "I've been doing this since I was 7 years old. It's not like I became a professional football player a year ago or five years ago. I've been playing ball since I was a kid. I've learned the ins and outs, the ups and downs of the game. The media, the different aspects, whatever it is, I'm on top of everything."