6-20-02, 4:45 a.m. **
Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Rodney Holman, who caught 318 balls as a Bengal from 1982-92, finished his NFL career after three more seasons in Detroit with a catch for every day of the year with 365. Earlier this week, Holman, heading into his second season as the Bengals assistant strength coach, took part of one of those days to talk to Geoff Hobson of bengals.com.**
GH: When Tony McGee got cut back in April, we did a fan poll on bengals.com and asked fans to choose the best Bengals tight end ever. You won a close race over Dan Ross and Bob Trumpy, some pretty big names. **
RH:** That's an honor. I was fortunate to play with Danny and hear about Trumpy. When I was a rookie, Danny was a veteran coming off a great Super Bowl season with (71) catches and I learned a lot by watching him. He had an exceptional way of releasing off the line of scrimmage.
He wasn't a big guy I might have had a pound or two on him (6-3, 238 pounds), or he might have had a pound or two on me. But he could get off the line. His forte was catching the ball. Quote unquote, he could catch a bee bee in the dark. His specialty was the option route. He could stop on a dime and turn around and make the catch. He had real good hand-eye coordination.
GH:You've always prided yourself on your forte being a two-way player. Although you were a hugely productive receiver, the Bengals always talk about your Pro Bowl blocking. **
RH:** I took as much gratification in making a block for a first down as I did for catching a ball for 10 yards. It's different in this day and age. All the receivers want to be the ones called upon for the big play. They want the ball in their hands at the end of the game to make the last shot. If they don't, they wonder why they didn't get it for the last shot.
It's important to do both. We had a thing in Detroit my last year in the league (1995) where we had two receivers (Herman Moore and Brett Perriman) who both had 100 catches and we had No. 20 (Barry Sanders) rush for 1,500 yards. There were plays where the receivers escorted him into the end zone on one of his long runs. You don't see that anymore. My hat went off to those guys because they excelled in that part of the game. I don't mean to slight anyone, but I don't see it that often.
I was gratified to hit the guy when I blocked. Now, you can be satisfied with being in front of a guy. You can tie a guy up by just standing in there. That's great for backs. . .but that wasn't my cup of tea.
GH: You had to hit a guy. **
RH:** I had to hit a guy. What it boils down to is it's a physical game. You have to take it personal. He either whips you or you whip him and that's how I went into battle. I didn't feel comfortable if I didn't get movement off the ball.
GH: I guess you just don't see tight ends doing that anymore. **
RH:** It's not asked of them. It's more finesse now (even though) guys are bigger now than when I played. . .The problem is, they don't expect them to do it in college. If you try to correct that in this situation, it's four or eight years of correcting. That's hard to do, so now you're trying to get a happy medium.
GH:Who are the best tight ends in the game now? **
RH:** I've watched a few of them. It's hard to say. All of them do one or two things. One catches the ball for you, one might block for you. My deal was I didn't play but two downs. Occasionally, I played three downs when we went into a special package. These guys now are playing three downs and they're bickering to play three. Very seldom I played on third down, unless we had a receiver who was hurt and I'd split out at times or stand up and run routes. That's the way I was looked at. It was more of a specialty role.
GH:All eyes are going to be on the tight end spot since the top two guys, Sean Brewer and Matt Schobel, have yet to play a NFL snap. Will it be tough for these young kids to come in and play without a veteran to look to? **
RH:** It's going to be tough for them like it's going to be tough on anybody. It's all based on preparation. How they respond to the coaches getting them ready for games. The learning process has to be done through experience. You can't expect them to see something and anticipate when they haven't been exposed to it.
GH: What is going to be their biggest adjustment? **
RH:** Their biggest adjustment is going to be getting used to the defenses and blocking the bigger defensive ends.
GH: They won't have the benefit of a Dan Ross being around. **
RH:** I wasn't turned loose when I got here. That wasn't until year two or three. I had time to learn the position. Not to say that I wasn't ready.
I had a great game against Detroit in the (next-to-last) pre-season game. Eight catches, 87 yards. I was on cloud nine, but it didn't take much to remind me I was behind a Pro Bowl tight end. I remember after the final cut and walking in and (head coach) Forrest (Gregg) telling me, 'Congratulations Holman, you made the team. Your first priority is special teams. Your second priority is short yardage and goal line, and your third priority is tight end. I said, 'Wow.' He said something that always stuck with me. He said, 'Your job is to always be ready.'
GH: Even though John Garrett was named the new tight ends coach after the season, I would think they still want you to help the young guys. **
RH:** It's been expressed to me to do that with guys. From Bob Bratkowski and Dick LeBeau, and John came to me and said the same thing, and I will. I worked last year with Tony and Marco (Battaglia).
GH: Are you disappointed you didn't get the job? **
RH:** Yeah, I was disappointed. But you look at it that maybe it just wasn't my time and that it will come.
GH: Do you like what you're doing? **
RH:** I enjoy it because I'm back in the game and I get a chance to see every player. Sometimes you feel out of place because it's something new to you.
GH: Do you think you'll end up coaching a position? **
RH:** I hope so, whether it's here or somewhere else, coaching tight ends or whatever. In this business you have to be able to be flexible.
GH: When you work with the tight ends, do you tell them, 'Here's what I did'? **
RH:** I try not to. As a player, no one wants to be compared. I've sat in rooms where they always compared to Kellen Winslow. Kellen Winslow did this. Kellen Winslow did that. He was on Air Coryell where they threw the ball quite a bit. Well, I wasn't Kellen, I was blessed to be Rodney Holman.
You certainly can't talk about that with guys today. I'm talking to them about guys who played 14 years ago. They can't even relate to you. I've got guys saying to me, 'I played with you on a computer game.' You just put your head in your hands, but that's the kind of stuff they say to you. You don't want to start in with, 'When I played,' because they're thinking, 'Here we go again with the old stuff.'
GH: You played on some great offenses. What did that offense have that this one doesn't? **
RH:** Experience. You've got guys here who have had three offensive coordinators in (two) years. We had Lindy Infante and Bruce Coslet (for most of the '80s) and now finally Bob is giving them a system for the second straight year. You could see some of that comfort on the field in the (May) camp. The way guys ran routes. They've still got a ways to go, but that's what training camp is for, where you get on the same page with the quarterback. It's all timing.
I think we're on the right track. It gets back to the old philosophy. You have to run to set up the pass. As good as our passing attack was, we could always run the ball. Right now, defenses are saying, 'We have to stop Corey Dillon.' We've got to get to the point where they're saying, 'We have to stop the passing attack," so Corey can do his thing and get to the outside.
GH: You blocked for Barry Sanders in his prime and for Ickey Woods in his Rookie of the Year season, and you've coached Corey. Who is the best you've seen? **
RH:** I would probably take No. 20 (Sanders). He was something special, and that's no slight on Corey and Corey and I have talked about it. In this day and age, Corey is probably the best running back in the league.
Sanders was a different guy. They asked Earl Campbell one time who was the one back in the game he could compare to himself and the guy who asked him was from Texas because he said it was probably Emmitt (Smith). And Earl said, 'No, Barry Sanders. He's in an offense like I was. I didn't have anybody in front of me. I had to make my own holes.'
It was probably the same way. He didn't have a full back like Emmitt has. He had to make his yards the hard way. Earl was a bruiser. Barry was a finesse kind of runner. He used his athleticism to make the yards. If you put me on the spot for one guy, I would say Barry, but Corey is special.
GH: Do you talk to Corey about Barry? **
RH:** We talk about it. His work ethic is somewhat similar to Barry. He's on the field, even in training camp, running hard all the time. You see him on those long runs go all the way into the end zone like Barry did.
In practice, you couldn't touch Barry. Wayne (Fontes) didn't want to get him hurt and Barry was tough, but you couldn't touch him in practice. So he had to get some kind of conditioning and he would take off from the line of scrimmage and run all the way into the end zone. Corey does the same thing, but it's not the same thing because we can touch Corey in practice. When he's on the field, he's always playing hard and that's what makes a back great.
GH: After '92, were you surprised the Bengals didn't renew your contract? **
RH:** Not really. I thought I had a few more years left, but I would have liked to have ended my career here. At that point in time, I looked at it as a change for the best.
GH: You ended up going to three playoffs with the Lions while Dave Shula came in here and went through a youth movement. **
RH:** After the third game of the ('92) season. We lost a disheartening game in Green Bay and made Brett Favre what he is today.
GH: Do you wonder what would have happened if Favre hadn't thrown that TD bomb with 15 seconds left and you guys went to 3-0? **
RH:** Oh yeah, it would have meant everything. We were on the verge. After that, it all came down and everyone and everything was changed, from the linemen to the tight ends.
GH: During your 11 years here, you played with the club's best receivers. Isaac Curtis, Cris Collinsworth, Carl Pickens. Who was the best? **
RH:** It would have to be Isaac. I played with him at the end, but I remember him still making some one-handed catches against Houston. He's the reason Paul (Brown) got the rule changed so that receivers couldn't get hit on the first five yards. If he had played his whole career with the new rules? The sky would have been the limit.
GH: When Raiders tight end Dave Casper made the Hall of Fame earlier this year, Mike Brown said you should get some consideration, too. (Note: Casper had 378 catches for 52 touchdowns in 147 games for 13.8 yards per catch. Holman had 365-36 in 212 games for 13.1 yards.) **
RH:** Maybe there's hope. I remember Casper when he played. Great player. Sure-handed kind of guy.
GH: If Casper is in, considering your reputation as a blocker, should you be considered? **
RH:** You go through a process with the sportswriters. I don't think we're very high on their lists right now.
We're a small media market and that was never my deal. I never wanted the limelight. It might have hurt me as far as being popular and being a fixture, but that's the way I am.