Holmes has solid foundation

Ravens: Already a visible member of the community, running back Priest Holmes also wants to be the main attraction of the offense and be suitably paid.

June 10, 1999|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Last weekend was a typical one for Ravens running back Priest Holmes. He held a bowl-a-thon for 50 children in Cambridge. He appeared at an art exhibit for a minority owner of the Orioles. He then went on local radio with Dr. Ben Carson and, later, television in an appeal for donations at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

In less than three years, Holmes has become firmly entrenched in the Baltimore community. Now he wants to become the focal point of the Ravens' offense and paid accordingly. Holmes and starting cornerback DeRon Jenkins are the only two veterans who have yet to sign their tendered offer sheets.

Holmes is an exclusive rights player and has two years left on his contract. The Ravens have offered him a minimum contract of $325,000, which according to several of Holmes' business representatives, would make him the lowest-paid starting running back in the league and the lowest-paid of any runner who had more than 1,000 yards rushing last year.

Holmes doesn't contemplate holding out during the 1999 season or trying to renegotiate his contract. That's not his style. He's a born-again Christian who considers playing pro football a blessing. But backup running back Errict Rhett makes more money than Holmes. So does reserve running back Jay Graham and fullback Chuck Evans.

"That's interesting," said Holmes, who rushed for 1,008 yards last season and led the team in receptions with 43 for 260 yards. "I'm near the bottom of the totem pole. The only players who make less than me are first-year players and undrafted rookies. I'm not disturbed about that. From what has been communicated to me, this could all change by midseason."

Apparently, John Mula, Holmes' agent, and Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, had some brief discussions this off-season about a new contract for Holmes, whom the Ravens signed as a free agent two years ago out of the University of Texas.

Newsome said that Holmes had developed more quickly than expected. But the team would like to see him put up impressive numbers again this season under first-year coach Brian Billick before they pay him as their "back of the future." Four hundred of Holmes' yards came in two games against the Cincinnati Bengals, who had the 28th-ranked defense in the league last season.

"If he has another year comparable to last year, we'll enter into a long-term agreement, the same way we did with Jermaine Lewis," said Newsome. "He has shown the ability we ask of our running backs. He can run inside, outside and pass protect."

Thus far, though, Holmes doesn't have a specified role. He has taken most of the repetitions with the first-team offense in two minicamps, but Billick is still getting a feel for this team. The top goal of minicamp this week has been to assimilate a training camp environment.

Designated roles may not be applied until weeks into training camp. But Holmes appears to be the first- and second-down back with Graham, and Steve Broussard taking over on passing downs. Rhett seems destined for the short-yardage patrol.

"No one has come up to me and said they love my style, my character, my persona and that they're going to stick with me," said Holmes. "At the same time, they haven't said you're terrible, we dislike you and we want to move in another direction. No matter where I'm at on the depth chart, my talent can't be hidden. I've been through this before.

"People say I have to prove myself, but I've come a long way in a short while. I know what I can do, but people have to remember that it all comes along with the performance of the offensive line, the offensive coordinator and the receivers catching the ball, opening up the passing lanes. If I look good, then everyone else looks good and vice versa. By midseason, this team will have to decide if I'm the person they're looking for, if I fit the criteria and [if] they have confidence in me."

The Ravens would like for Holmes to succeed. He is a tireless worker in the off-season and could be the team's poster boy. He is articulate, handsome and spends a great deal of his time in the community for charitable events. He travels around the country speaking for churches and Christian groups.

After practice today, he will participate in a groundbreaking ceremony to be held at Utz Twardowicz Field, where the NFL, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the Ravens will present the Friends of Patterson Park and South East Community Organization with a $100,000 grant for the renovation and reconstruction of the field.

"I've heard the skeptics say I gained most of those yards against Cincinnati, but nobody else did against them and I did it twice," said Holmes. "When you have a player with a multi-year, million-dollar contract, then you give him the ball, rain or shine. When you don't, you get a lot of up-and-down games. I've committed myself to this team, this city, the fans and my teammates.

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