Acquiring Rossum Heightens Expectations For Holmes

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

Thursday, September 06, 2007
By Paul Eide
Steelers Fever Columnist


When the Steelers traded a conditional late-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for veteran return man/cornerback Allen Rossum, it showed how highly the team regards second-year player Santonio Holmes and just how far he has progressed from this time last year.

Allen RossumAfter an impressive preseason in which he lead the team with 170 reception yards and a 24.3 yards per catch average, Holmes asserted his value to the offense and showed that he was in fact ready to take the reins as the teams unquestioned No. 2 wide receiver. Of his seven preseason receptions, only two went for less than 20 yards and gave the new Steelers offense under Bruce Arians exactly what he needed to make his scheme work: a vertical threat to stretch defenses.

With Hines Ward, Cedrick Wilson and Nate Washington working underneath, Holmes preseason production on the outside showed that whatever value he had returning punts and kicks was now outweighed by the offense's need for him to make use of his electrifying skills consistently when the offense has the ball. Because of his slight build, and with a serious injury just one play away on perhaps the riskiest job in football, returning punts, the Steelers did the right thing by asking him to focus solely on offense.

Enter Allen Rossum. The Falcons career leader in punt return yards, Rossum was once viewed as arguably the best punt return man in the NFL. From 2001-2004 he averaged 12.1 yards per return (the NFL leader for 2007, Pac Man Jones, averaged 12.9 on 34 returns), had 21 returns of at least twenty yards, had six of at least 40 yards and scored three touchdowns. No slouch returning kickoffs either, Rossum sports a career average of 22.9 and has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.

Rossum made the Pro Bowl in 2005 where he won the title of "NFL's Fastest Man" during the Pro Bowl Skills competition. Perhaps his greatest on field performance came in the 2004 postseason victory over the St. Louis Rams where he set an NFL playoff record with 152 punt return yards on three returns and single-handedly deflated the opposition with his speed and elusiveness.

Though Tomlin has been evasive about the newly acquired Rossum's role with the team, the depth chart released by the Steelers communication department has him listed as the No. 1 punt and kick returner for week one. Rossum's attitude heading into the season opener versus Cleveland is exactly what you want from a 10-year veteran getting a fresh start in a new city.

"I really don't know yet," said Rossum of the role he will fill with the Steelers. "I kind of got here this morning, suited up and went to practice. I played nickel, returned punts and kickoffs, I covered, I even played a little receiver. I just want to play. Whenever you have an opportunity like this with a legacy of a team like this, I think that's the attitude you should have."

For the price the Steelers paid to acquire Allen Rossum, they have absolutely nothing to lose. For the duration of the preseason Santonio Holmes has shown he is primed for a breakout year. By acquiring Rossum, Mike Tomlin has not only reiterated that belief, but pulled the trigger on a move that could prove to be genius very soon.