Contributor at a revival Ravens: Unwanted out of college, free-agent back Priest Holmes justifies the team's leap of faith, proving that he not only can be a special teams terror, but also that he can run the ball.

August 27, 1998|By Eduardo A. Encina | Eduardo A. Encina,SUN STAFF

Most of the preseason backfield hype has touted the battle between running backs Jay Graham and Errict Rhett. But the Ravens' third-string tailback quietly has been making waves.

Second-year player Priest Holmes has made great strides during the preseason, coming a long way from last year when he was a free agent and made the final roster as a special teams player.

"We've really had high hopes for Priest ever since we first saw him," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "We thought he was going to be a fine athlete. We thought he came on fast in training camp last year. He slowed down a little bit and then came on strong in the end. And now he's playing like we thought he possibly could."

Holmes' improvement can be quantified by his statistics. He is third on the team in rushing in the preseason with 70 yards in 17 attempts, but he has made his biggest impact on special teams with a team-high four tackles and one fumble recovery.

"I think I am much more focused now," Holmes said. "I think I have more energy and motivation to get on the field. The first year's about getting all the fundamentals down. Now, I just have to go out and play."

Holmes said his improvement over this preseason can be explained by consistency.

"I really know how to run the routes and I'm comfortable with it," he said.

Running backs coach Al Lavan said: "A lot of what he's done this year has been a natural progression that you'd like to expect from a second-year player. He's more familiar with the system and what his role is in it. He's improved specifically in his ability to catch the ball and run routes and he's improved generally as a running back as far as running the ball and pass protection."

Coaches have praised Holmes for his strong work ethic. He stayed here in the off-season, attempting to come into camp in better all-around condition.

"I stayed here and I developed physically and mentally and prepared myself, getting a head start before training camp and getting accustomed to the plays again."

Lavan said Holmes will get more playing time at tailback on third downs in the Ravens' new two-back offense. Last year, Holmes was limited to special teams.

And Holmes is looking forward to getting the opportunity to play tailback in the NFL.

"It allows me to play more," Holmes said, "and it involves more preparation and experience. I see the running back position here, and I do reps along with Graham and Rhett, so it's something I'm ready for. It's just a matter of doing it in the game and performing on the field with the other 10 guys."

Playing tailback in the NFL always has been a goal for Holmes. His idol as a youngster was former Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett. While playing tailback at Marshall High in San Antonio to packed high school stadiums, he rushed for more than 2,000 yards as a senior. Then the scholarship offers came in bundles, even one from Dorsett's alma mater, Pittsburgh, but Holmes chose to stay in state and attend Texas.

"At that point in my life, I just felt like I needed to stay closer to home, and do a little growing up."

In 1995, he tore an anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him the entire season. But the next year he rebounded to score a team-high 13 touchdowns, including 120 yards and three touchdowns in Texas' upset of Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game. In Holmes' final game in the Sun Bowl, he rushed for 161 yards and four touchdowns and was the Most Valuable Player in a win over North Carolina.

But on draft day Holmes was overlooked.

"It was something that was very new to me," Holmes said about the draft. "I really didn't know anybody who had been in the situation before, so I didn't have anyone to talk to about what was coming up. I was just trying to play football."

Now, more than a year later, Holmes has made his way onto a roster and has proven he can contribute in the NFL.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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