You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
About a year ago, Warrick Holdman's NFL career seemed to be doing quite well. He had just come on board with the Redskins at the age of 29 with 61 career starts under his belt. There were two starting jobs in play as weak side starter LaVar Arrington was still recovering from a knee injury and middle linebacker Antonio Pierce had bolted to the New York Giants via free agency. Holdman was reunited with linebackers coach Dale Lindsey, under whom he had enjoyed his best seasons in Chicago.
When the season started, he found himself at the periphery of the Arrington controversy as he continued to start in place of a healthy LaVar. Eventually Holdman found himself square in the middle of the storm as he struggled on the field. He often appeared to be lost in the defense. Here is what was said about him here after the Redskins' Week 8 36-0 blowout loss to the Giants:
And this is not an isolated poor performance. Holdman has started all seven games this year, has played the lion's share of the defensive snaps and yet they need to put out an Amber alert for him. He has 15 tackles. Yes, a small fraction over two a game for a starting NFL linebacker. You can fall on piles or tag runners who have fallen down and get that many.
After his performance in the Meadowlands blowout Holdman found himself parked firmly at the end of the bench. When the season ended he became an unrestricted free agent. Joe Gibbs frequently mentioned a list of the team's free agents that the team wanted to bring back; Holdman's name never was mentioned. The other 31 NFL teams, all of which had Holdman's 2005 performance documented on film, took a pass on him as well. After free agency began he was unemployed and, apparently, unwanted.
Then after about a month, Holdman's fortunes began to turn. The Redskins had released Arrington and wanted a veteran on the weak side to compete for the job with the inexperienced Chris Clemons and whatever linebacker the Redskins might draft (that turned out to be Rocky McIntosh). They brought in a few mid-level free agents and made some offers, but nobody bit. So in mid April the Redskins turned to Holdman who was, to use the words of Steve Spurrier when explaining the preponderance of former Florida Gators on the Redskins roster, cheap and available.
Brought back from the dead and given another chance, Holdman is making the most of it. Last year he wasn't signed until the middle of May and he admitted that he was out of shape. "I had been in free agency, going on trips, eating steak and wining and dining," he said.
When you're with Gibbs' Washington Redskins, May is not the time you need to start getting yourself in to shape. You're already hopelessly behind at that point. He reported to minicamp last year at 240 pounds. Holdman came in this year at 233.
He knows that his performance last year was not up to snuff. "I owe the Redskins from last season," he said.
Gregg Williams has rewarded Holdman's efforts by putting him at the top of the depth chart going in to training camp. "Warrick right now is having a great camp," said Williams during minicamp. "His suddenness without the pads on is excellent. Right now, Warrick has done the best job coming out of this camp with Roger and Chris breathing right down his neck."
A lot can happen in camp, and Holdman's status as the starter is far from secure. However, the fact that he occupies the top spot on the depth roster is quite surprising if not miraculous.
A year ago it appeared that Mark Brunell's career as a Redskin was all but over. After a horrid 2004 that ended with him firmly on the bench, there was no reason to believe that he would contribute anything in 2005. Redskins fans cringed at the thought of Brunell ever have to take a meaningful snap for Washington. At minicamp, however, Brunell showed improved arm strength. Twenty minutes in to the season, he was the starter who would eventually lead the Redskins into the playoffs.
A month or so ago the thought of Holdman lining up at weakside LB was a cringe moment for Redskins fans as well. Is Holdman's solid 2006 minicamp a precursor to a similar story of redemption for a veteran?
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when they moved to Washington in 1937 through the 2001 season. For details on this unique book and to get ordering information, go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com.