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Bill Belichick won’t be selling Trindon Holliday short in Broncos return game

11.22.13 at 1:56 pm ET
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Trindon Holliday will be a force to be reckoned with Sunday night. (AP)

Trindon Holliday will be a force to be reckoned with Sunday night. (AP)

FOXBORO — There is no returner in the game that instills fear in opposing special teams coaches more than Trindon Holliday. To say the 5-foot-5, 169-pound returner is a game-changer is selling him short.

In just two full-time seasons with the Texans and Broncos, Holliday has taken six kicks to the house, including two in one playoff game against the Ravens last January. This season, Holliday returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in Week 2 against the Giants. He also returned a kick-off 105 yards for a touchdown in Week 4 against the Eagles.

Holliday, the shortest player in the NFL, had a difficult time getting started in football. His mother held him out of football until seventh grade, because she was afraid he would be injured. After several years of performing at a high level, his high school coaches finally let him start as a running back during his junior year. In his senior year he accumulated over 2,000 yards and over 30 touchdowns, leading his high school Northeast High [Louisiana] to back-to-back State Semi-Final appearances.

Holliday was drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 draft by the Texans. But his blazing speed didn’t help him initially. Trindon struggled on kickoff returns in the preseason. He was placed on IR because of a fracture in his thumb. September 3, 2011 he was cut then placed on the practice squad. On October 5, his practice squad contract was terminated. He was later added to the active roster, but was waived on October 25.

In the 2012 preseason week 1 against Carolina, he returned a kickoff return for a touchdown. The next week, he returned a punt for a touchdown against San Francisco. In the final preseason game against the Vikings, Holliday recorded his third touchdown in four games; this touchdown was a 76-yard punt return. Following the 2012 preseason, Holliday made the Houston Texans 53-man roster and was the starting punt and kick returner.

Holliday was waived from the Texans on Oct. 10, 2012 in a move to bolster their defense. In step the Broncos. A day later, Holliday was claimed off of waivers by the Broncos. Four days later, in his first game with Denver, Holliday fumbled and lost the ball on a punt return in the first quarter of the game. He returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown against the Bengals on Nov. 4, 2012, breaking the Broncos record for the longest play.

A week later, he returned a punt for 76 yards against Carolina. The play was ruled a touchdown despite his fumble on the 1 yard line. Remarkably, Holliday’s teams went undefeated during the regular season in 2012. He started the season with the Texans who were 5-0 when they cut him. He was the acquired by the Broncos who finished the regular season 13-3 with an 11 game win streak.

He didn’t stop there.

Holliday returned a punt in the first quarter of the AFC divisional game against Baltimore for a 90 yard touchdown, the longest punt return in postseason history. During the third quarter of that game, he returned a kickoff for a 104 yard touchdown. He became the first player in NFL history with a punt return touchdown and a kick return touchdown in the same postseason game. He had 256 total punt and kick return yards but the Broncos lost, 38-35 in double overtime.

Has Belichick ever seen a returner like him?

“I think he’s got a real good combination of skills. He’s tough, that’s I’d say the big thing. He’s tough, he doesn’t mind running up inside or taking a hit, that kind of thing. It’s not all just run to the sideline. Kind of like Ted Ginn is a speed guy and he tried to get a lot of his speed outside.

“Holliday can definitely get outside and he’s got a lot of speed, but he gets a lot of plays up inside too, where people overplay him. He’s quick and he’s tough and he’s fast and he’s got good vision. Those things are all good. He’s obviously not a very big guy and there are some other issues but he’s an explosive player that can really score on any type of return: inside return, outside return. He’ll run right up the middle and split the coverage as well as try to out-run them down the sideline.”

Here is the rest of Friday’s press conference from Belichick:

BB: It feels like it’s been a quick week. We’re closing it up here; be ready to go Sunday night.

Q: Offensively, are they pretty much three receivers?

BB: Pretty much.

Q: For the tight end, Julius Thomas, do you see him blocking a lot on the line or is he more of a receiver playing tight end?

BB: I think in their offense, they do whatever the play is. They use everybody to kind of do everything; it depends on what they want to get done and how much they’re trying – particular game or particular situation – what they need a guy to do, then that’s what he does.

Q: Is he similar to any of the tight ends that Peyton Manning has worked with in the past?

BB: That would probably be a better question for Peyton, to tell you the truth.

Q: Do he remind you of anybody in particular?

BB: Nobody right off hand. Dallas Clark and those guys, no. Not right off the top of my head.

Q: Defensively, is it the same stuff with Jack Del Rio that he was doing in Jacksonville? Personnel is different but is it the same type of scheme?

BB: No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say there’s obviously, well I don’t really know who is making the call or who is influencing who, but no, I’d say they’re much more of a man coverage team. John [Fox], I’m sure, has some input or whatever. Again, I don’t know the inner workings of their defense. But, no, I wouldn’t say it’s Jacksonville’s defense.

Q: You’ve said in the past that Peyton Manning is an expert at trying to catch you with a defensive grouping on the field that’s not advantageous for you. Is he still as good at keeping the defense on the field and minimizing the substituting you can do?

BB: Yeah, if he can. I think that’s harder for everybody to do now because of the way the game is being officiated. You just don’t see that as much anymore; some, but not, I don’t think, as much as you did. It’s a lot easier to substitute than what it used to be. There have been a couple examples of it, but I think it was much more frequent and it was much more of problem for defenses to substitute in previous years than what it’s been this year. In all our games, you see a lot of times they run guys on and off in between plays. It’s not really that big of a problem.

Q: Does that modification help the defense overall around the league?

BB: Probably, yeah. It’s definitely easier to substitute. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s easier. There are times where you could still get caught depending on the type of play and where the ball is and which hash it’s on and things like that – how far you actually have to go to make the exchange but it’s a lot easier, there’s a lot more time and it’s a lot easier than it used to be.

Q: We haven’t seen a lot of Jamie Collins on defense. Are you seeing growth from on defense and do you expect to use him more on defense as the season goes on?

BB: I think he’s definitely making progress, absolutely. He’s better each week.

Q: He’s been playing a lot on special teams. But defensively is it just a matter of matchups to this point?

BB: Game plan, situation. I think he’s improving, I think he’s doing a good job. We have other players at that position; some game plan things. If we put him in the game, we’ll have confidence in playing him, I can tell you that.

Q: With Josh Boyce being the guy back there against Carolina, what are some things a young guy has to learn when it comes to kickoff returns, more so than just what he did in college?

BB: Well, a big part of it is certainly judging the ball. The flight of the ball, the timing of the return, the judgment coming out of the end zone, which there are so many kicks in the NFL that are in the end zone, even the ones that are brought out a lot of times are multiple yards deep, so there’s all those judgments. Then there’s understanding how to do set up the blocks on the blocking pattern of the return. It’s not really just running to daylight. Wherever he runs, everybody else goes to so it’s being able to set up the blocks for the guys in the wedge or on the front line so that they can keep leverage on the defenders and then he can cut off them. When you’re blocking on a kick return, if you don’t know where the runner is, then that’s really hard for you to put yourself in position between yourself and the defender to make the block, if he runs different directions. Btu if he runs to a certain point, then you can position yourself so that you can get between your man and where he’s going to end up. Maybe that’s where he’s going or maybe that’s where he starts but then the play and the design is to run somewhere else and you’re able to position yourself between the man and where the runner is. So, there’s a discipline and a timing and a setting of those blocks up that’s important for those guys to get. Whether they get that in college, I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ve been told in college at different schools, but I just know that’s the fundamental of a good kickoff returner is to be able to handle the ball cleanly, have explosive speed and decision-making, set up the blocks and then when there’s a seam, get through it.

Q: How important is the role of the guy in front of the returner, who is telling the returner whether or not to come out? Is that role more complicated than we might realize?

BB: Yeah, I’d say that’s definitely a key role on the team. It’s sort of like, if you will, the personal protector on the punt team. It’s the last line of defense for the returner. There’s the judgment on ball handling, but even if it’s just a normal kick and we know who is going to get it, the short returner usually, depending on what the return is, has different responsibilities. Sometimes he cleans up on blocks, sometimes he’s assigned to a specific guy but usually when he’s assigned to a specific guy he normally would have to weave his way through some traffic, like the wedge or another coverage player to get to his assignment. You don’t want him blocking the first guy down because there would be too much penetration. Normally he’s on more of a second-level player or he’s looking to take some kind of leakage from, say if you were on the right return, maybe he takes the leakage from the left side so that nobody catches the returner from behind but he has to make that decisions of ‘Is the guy close enough or can we bypass him and go to somebody else?’ again, that all gets into the relationship between him and the returner and the track that the returner is on, being able to know where he is, know who you have to block, who you don’t have to block and then making decisions in terms of getting to your man through traffic, so that you can get to your assignment without screwing the returner up. I’d say there’s definitely a lot to that position. It’s a hard position to play. It’s kind of a combination of being the fullback in the running game but you’re dealing with a lot more space and a lot more decision-making. Sometimes those guys are reading three, four, five, different people on one play, depending on what happens, ‘Somebody shows, they take him. If nobody shows, then I’m blocking this guy but I have to work my way up to that guy.’

Q: Is there any carryover this week in terms of the offensive line dealing with linebackers who are speed based and how they deal with those guys?

BB: We’ve seen a lot of teams with fast linebackers. I’d say Denver, these guys definitely can run. [Wesley] Woodyard and [Danny] Trevathan, they’re fast guys. We’ve seen fast guys. I’d say probably about half the teams we’ve played have guys that are, I would say, on the upper end on the speed scale.

Q: Does that change a lot schematically? Or is just getting there faster?

BB: Yeah, I think when you put together your running game, you have to take that into consideration, that it’s hard to, if I’m blocking a guy, I’m blocking a guy in front of me, if it’s a fast guy, you might have a hard time to getting to him. Whereas, if you have him leveraged, then speed isn’t as much of a factor because you have the angle on him. There are other guys that we play that we feel like we can get to, we can get up and get to them because they’re either not that fast or they don’t pursue that quickly. They’re more of a type of tempo player that I don’t want to say plays behind the ball, but plays more at or behind the ball. Now, again, no matter what type of guy you play, depending on what they have called and what the play is, sometimes that will change everything. There’s some plays where they go fast and there are other plays where they go slow because there are other people in that spot in the defense. There’s always an element of it, it’s never always the same. No, those guys are challenging. They’re good in space: screen plays and check downs and things like that. A lot of times you see a guy catch the ball and it will look like the guy has some room and all the sudden it converges and there’s not much there. But that’s true of [Luke] Kuechly and [Thomas] Davis too.

Q: It’s going to be cold so a lot of people will be inside.

BB: Again, there are plenty of times on the road offensively that the crowd noise isn’t an issue and there are plenty of times at home when crowd noise isn’t an issue. But there are times when it is. You just have to be prepared on that side of the ball, whichever side of it you’re in, whichever game you’re playing, you’re going to have to deal with it at some point. But it’s not 100 percent of the time on every play, in my experience. Except if you get into a game at a neutral site, like the Super Bowl, then you kind of have noise on every play, all the time. The decibel level goes up and down but it’s always pretty high; there is no home team. But that’s obviously much more of an exception than rule.

Q: London too?

BB: Yeah, when they do the wave.

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