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HANDY MAN : Veteran Tight End Pete Holohan Has Caught On With the Rams This Season

Times Staff Writer

Tired of the rumors, Ram rookie Flipper Anderson asked to see Pete Holohan’s hands Thursday, just to make sure they weren’t different from his.

Anderson wasn’t sure what he was looking for--suction cups maybe, or Velcro implants. Extra fingers?

“I was just sizing them up,” he said. “Seeing how big his hands were. You know, how does he catch so well?”

For rookie receivers, Holohan has almost become this year’s lab project. Assignment: Watch the tight end at work, study his habits and report to the huddle with crib notes.

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“He’s probably the most sure-handed receiver I’ve been around,” Anderson said. “The way he catches the ball, it looks so easy.”

As an assistant coach with the Raiders in 1975, John Robinson thought he had seen it all with ol’ sticky fingers himself--Fred Biletnikoff.

“If you threw a ball anywhere near Fred, he just caught it,” Robinson said. “Pretty soon, everyone said, ‘Well, I guess that’s just how you’re supposed to do it.’ This guy (Holohan) has that same kind of ability.”

The Rams made a pretty good catch of their own, landing Holohan this year in a draft-day trade with the San Diego Chargers for a fourth-round pick. Credit the reception to offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese, who coached Holohan in San Diego and convinced Robinson that Holohan still had the magic touch.

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The Pete Holohan era in San Diego was past, though Holohan is just 29. He had 56 catches in 1984, just 20 in 1987. Coach Don Coryell was gone. Zampese was gone. Quarterback Dan Fouts was on his way out the door.

In other words, a nice time for Holohan to move up the freeway, considering that the Charger offense had already moved to Anaheim with Zampese the year before.

“A big part of going to a new team is learning the new plays,” Holohan said. “But I basically knew the system inside and out. It worked out real good.”

Holohan has latched onto the Ram offense with more than his hands.

But first things first. Holohan is the Rams’ second-leading receiver with 33 catches. More than that, he has become quarterback Jim Everett’s first call in times of trouble.

Holohan has made 11 of his 33 catches on third down. All 11 have produced first downs. The Rams have thrown to Holohan 19 times on third down this season.

Why? Because Holohan’s hands rarely let the Rams down. He can’t really explain what’s so special about his digits. Holohan, a mop-top from Liverpool--New York, that is--was recruited to Notre Dame as a quarterback and wasn’t switched to flanker until his sophomore season.

You hear stories of quarterbacks throwing footballs through tires to hone their skills. Holohan never practiced being a receiver. No father threw balls at Holohan’s fingers until they bled.

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But Holohan does admit to having great vision.

“The most important thing about hands is that it starts with the eyes,” he said. “And most guys with good hands have good eye coordination to go with it.”

Holohan also offered another theory.

“When I was growing up, I always played a lot of basketball,” he said. “I don’t know if the timing came from basketball, rebounding and shooting. But I never really practiced (receiving). All I can think of is all those years of basketball. Because they just kind of threw me in the fire my sophomore year (at Notre Dame) and said, ‘You’re the flanker now.’ ”

Still, Holohan is not your average receiver. He’s not particularly fast or quick. He plays his position as if he were a fullback, almost welcoming head-on collisions with linebackers. Need a catch in a crowd? Call Holohan.

“You think of receivers as speed guys, or finesse guys,” Everett said. “Pete’s aggressive. And it helps all our other receivers, watching how he attacks the football.”

Holohan rationalizes it this way:

“You’re going to get hit anyway, right?” he said. “You might as well catch it. And that really holds true, especially for a guy like me. I’m not going to catch it, juke someone and take it up the sideline. I’m going to get hit one way or another.”

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Holohan has also found a way to make the 5-yard catch seem exciting, something else that has endeared him to teammates. Holohan, a 7-year veteran, reacts to every catch as if it were his first.

Holohan hasn’t played in a college game since 1980, but he acts more like Flipper Anderson, who played in one last season.

“He keeps it fun,” Anderson said. “He jumps on the sidelines and waves his hands in the air.”

Off the field, Holohan is married with children, a quiet family man who doesn’t miss curfews or meetings.

On the field is a different story. The Dodgers have Mickey Hatcher. The Rams have Pete Holohan.

“I was always an emotional-type guy,” he said. “When I first came in with the Chargers and caught my first pass, I was really all fired up. And it kind of carried over from that.

“When I do something good, or someone on the team does something good, and it’s a positive thing toward us winning, I get pumped up. I’m not doing it to do anything to our opponent. It’s an instinctive, spontaneous thing. And I actually think I play better when I play emotionally.”

Robinson, reigning king of motivators, doesn’t underestimate Holohan’s influence on his players.

But it’s Holohan’s work ethic that impresses Robinson, the tight end’s devotion to detail and perfection. It took Robinson time to be convinced. In fact, just minutes after Holohan pulled in for his first Ram training camp last summer, he pulled his first Ram hamstring.

“He had it for 3 weeks,” Robinson said. “So he was kind of a zero standing there. It was like, ‘What is Pete doing? Not a thing.’ But once he came back, his impact was dramatic.”

Robinson was sold quickly.

“Ernie talked about him, Fouts talked about him, I expected him to be good,” Robinson said. “But he’s just like Fred Biletnikoff, who surprised everybody every day. Just like Eric (Dickerson), too. He’d do some stuff out there where you’d just say, ‘Whoooo.’ Those kinds of people have skills that surprise you on a daily basis.”

Still, if Robinson were ever, say, drowning, he’d probably rather look up and see Holohan instead of Dickerson.

Who has better hands?

Ram Notes

Linebacker Mel Owens’ sprained ankle is not responding to treatment, and he’s expected to miss his third consecutive game this weekend. “I might consider putting him on injured reserve,” Coach John Robinson said Thursday. “I probably won’t, but I’m sure thinking about it.

With his rushing game struggling, Robinson said he will start Charles White ahead of Greg Bell Sunday against New Orleans. “It’s the same order of business,” he said. “Charlie’s just going first.” Both backs have shared the tailback spot the last 3 weeks. In that time, Bell has carried 39 times for 116 yards, White 32 times for 137 yards. Bell, still the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher with 766 yards, has been bothered by a bruised shoulder and back spasms. He’s listed as probable against the Saints. It will be White’s first start since the season opener against Green Bay.


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