The moment Gerod Holliman was drafted, he was compared to Darren Perry. And a ball hawk is a ball hawk is a ball hawk. You can’t teach that. You can position a player with a great defensive call. But if that player does not have the instinct it won’t matter much. 14 interceptions is no fluke. Darren Perry had 15 in his entire career at Penn State, and he was the last of our ball hawk free safeties.
When Perry departed the position, Brent Alexander manned centerfield. He did a good job of creating aerial turnovers averaging about four per season in his 4 years as a starter …but you might have trouble recalling any of them. Chris Hope was next up and gave the Steelers two solid seasons. He provided great run support but did little in the turnover department. Hope soon left for the greener pastures of free agency. I believe this juncture can be viewed as the change of philosophy at our safety position. Of course Troy Polamalu also had something to do with it.
In 2006 Ryan Clark was signed to replace Chris Hope. The “free” safety spot was modified and our safety positions became interchangeable. Even though Polamalu and Clark became arguably the best safety tandem in the league, Clark, who played more like a strong safety, would only have 12 interceptions in his 8 seasons playing the “free” spot. In comparison, in 7 seasons as a Steeler, Darren Perry would have 32.
In college, Perry was named a first-team All-American. He left Penn State as it’s second leading all-time interceptor. All that got him was a draft selection in the 8th round in 1992. Gerod Holliman has only one year as a college starter under his belt..but there is many a notch in it. But where Perry excelled at run support, Holliman comes up short. Big deal I say. Calvin Pryor, who played ahead of Holliman at Louisville, was said to be the better all around player. That landed him a lofty first round selection. However he only had half the interceptions for his entire college career that Holliman had in one season. A ball hawk is a ball hawk is a ball hawk.
I am reminded of something Casey Hampton said when he had trouble finishing some of his sprints. “If I have to run more than 15 yards on a play, something has already gone terribly wrong.” While not quite the same, if your free safety is the last guy needing make the tackle, I might have to quote the last part of Big Snack’s observation. Personally I have always wanted my free safety to read the QB’s eyes and get the offense back on the field. Big hits are nice and do give opposing pass catchers alligator arms. However, Goodell is making it so the jarring collisions disappear and those arms can extend like Inspector Gadget’s without fear. Getting to the ball before the opposition may be the best way for a defense to now answer.
So many people are quick to write Holliman off and yet he was selected higher than two of the Steelers better free safeties over the last 25 years.
Just remember, 14 is no fluke.