The Patriots, and Drew Bledsoe in particular, have been searching for more than a year for a suitable replacement for Ben Coates to exploit the middle of the field on those crucial third-down passing situations. With Notre Dame's Jabari Holloway on board, that search may finally be over.
Holloway comes to New England after Head Coach Bill Belichick used his second pick in the fourth round (No. 119 overall) to select the athletic tight end with loads of potential. Although used primarily as a blocker with the Irish, Holloway possesses the ability to become a very productive all-around tight end.
"He is a true tight end who can block like a lineman and receive like a wideout," said Notre Dame tight ends coach Steve Addazio. "He does both extremely well and it wouldn't have shocked me had he [been taken] much earlier than the fourth round. He is definitely the kind of guy you want in your organization. He was a captain at Notre Dame; there's not much more that you can say than that."
Holloway finished his four years in South Bend with just 41 catches, but Addazio believes that had much to do with Notre Dame's conservative offensive approach. That was surely a major factor last season, when the 6-2, 253-pounder caught just six passes in 10 games.
In addition to Notre Dame's run-dominated philosophy, Head Coach Bob Davie was forced to insert true freshman Matt LoVecchio as his starting quarterback early in the season, further prompting the Irish to keep it on the ground.
But the NFL scouts recognized Holloway's potential and he received a great deal of attention in the days leading to the draft.
"At Notre Dame we did what we had to do to win," Holloway said of his modest production. "I put myself in that position and I'm not ashamed of my decision. I'm very glad I went to Notre Dame. I stepped up for the team when the team needed me and we went to the Fiesta Bowl this year and that's about all I can ask for."
Holloway also believes his abilities as a receiver are somewhat underrated. In a pre-draft interview with NFL.com, he said he was confident that "once the coaches saw him catch the ball, they will notice that I have good hands."
The Patriots hope Holloway can fill the glaring need in the passing game that has existed since the start of the 1999 season. That was Coates' last in New England and his production (32 catches) dropped off markedly before the team decided to let the six-time Pro Bowler go in the offseason shortly after Belichick's arrival.
In addition to his fine athletic skills, Holloway brings a load of intangibles to the table. The Riverdale, Ga., native is a computer engineering major, carries a 3.2 grade-point average and will graduate later this month. According to Addazio, that intelligence level sets him apart.
"He's such a dedicated player in terms of a guy who takes a lot of pride in being a technician, studying game film and learning opponents," Addazio said. "He gives you such a great day's work. He really was a great guy to coach because he was so smart and tough."
Another possible reason that Holloway slipped to the fourth round is he suffered through an injury-plagued senior season. A badly sprained ankle suffered against Purdue limited his mobility early in the season, and then a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee kept him out of the final two games of the year, including the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oregon State.
But Holloway insists his health is not a factor and he is eager to battle for a job in New England, where he'll join college teammate and third-round pick Brock Williams in New England's 2001 draft class.
"I thank the Patriots for having faith in me and giving me the opportunity to come in and compete," Hollway said. "I think it's an excellent position. I'm used to the cold weather so that's nothing new to me. My roommate is from Boston so I know a lot about the area. They obviously have Drew Bledsoe at quarterback and they have a good wide receiver from Ohio State [Terry Glenn].
"I'm just working on all aspects of my game to be a complete tight end, a tight end that can catch the ball as well as block. That's what I'm looking to do with the Patriots."
With Rod Rutledge, Jermaine Wiggins and Chris Eitzmann (plus sixth-round pick Arther Love) on the roster at tight end, Holloway will get his chances to show his stuff. Rutledge is known strictly as a blocker, while Wiggins is more of a receiver. Eitzmann is a raw second-year player who saw little playing time as a rookie.
Given those options, Belichick will give Holloway a chance to emerge as the all-around tight end scouts believe he can be.
Strengths — Work ethic, athleticism; skills both as a blocker and receiver; great guy in community who should provide a character presence in the locker with some experience
Weaknesses — Needs to continue to work on his speed and his route running ability; limited opportunities in Notre Dame's run-oriented offense held him back in his development as a receiver
Personal — Blocked six field goals in one season in high school, returning two for touchdowns; father Frank played college football at Morehouse College
Comparable NFL player — Troy Drayton, Kansas City Chiefs — Similar size and athleticism. Fluid with good hands
What They're Saying...
"Does not have good combine numbers. But he can become a solid pro if he learns to become more physical and a technically sound blocker."
-Joel Buchsbaum, author of Pro Football Weekly's 2001 Draft Preview