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Santonio Holmes might provide a boost or be a bust

Updated: September 20, 2014 6:22AM

On his first day with the Bears, wide receiver Santonio Holmes already seemed to have a keen awareness of a vital key to success that the Bears themselves took years to figure out — keep Jay Cutler happy.

Despite a Super Bowl MVP award, a 1,200-yard receiving season and a well-earned reputation as a big-play performer, Holmes’ success in Chicago is virtually dependent on developing a working relationship with Cutler that can make or break you around here. Cutler cussed out Mike Martz, grew frustrated with Devin Hester, ignored Mike Tice, shoved J’Marcus Webb and, most recently, barked at Eric Weems.

They are all gone. Cutler has seven years left on a $127 million contract — the first three of which are guaranteed. He’s not going anywhere.

Holmes, who clicked with Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh but feuded with Mark Sanchez with the Jets, knows how important it is to connect with Cutler.

“It’s going to be big,” said Holmes on Monday after his first practice with the Bears at Halas Hall. “He knows who I am and I know who he is. I know what he has to offer and I have to prove to him what I have to offer to the team, which is showing up, being on time, being accountable, catching every pass from him and showing him how hard I want to work on offense.”

Connecting with Cutler is even more important for Holmes with the Bears because he’s coming in cold and probably doesn’t have a lot of time to prove himself. You don’t bring in Santonio Holmes to be a work-in-progress.

The timing might be right. Holmes, who like Cutler turned 30 this year, has caught the maturing Bears quarterback in his mentor phase. They’ve both endured degrees of persecution in their up-and-down NFL careers, so they have at least that in common, and maybe more.

“I’m excited to be here with him. He’s taken me under his wing,” Holmes said. “He’s talked to me and kept me close. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be exciting for us all.”

Holmes, who was cut by the Jets after last season — with two years remaining on a five-year, $45 million contract he signed in 2011 — and was unsigned three weeks into training camp, was upbeat about the opportunity to re-establish himself in the NFL.

“I’ve got an opportunity to play again and I feel great about it,” he said. “I’m going to embrace this opportunity and take advantage of it. It’s a great group for me to be around and I’m looking forward to what we have.”

It remains to be seen if Holmes will be good enough and healthy enough and — perhaps most importantly —whether he can learn quickly enough to establish himself as a threat in the Bears’ offense. But the upside is good enough that it’s worth a shot.

“I’m excited about it,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I’ve watched him work the last couple of days. He’s been out running and catching the ball with Jay and the guys. It’s good to see him out there. We’ll see how it goes. It will be one day at a time. He’s got a lot of learning to do.”

Holmes arrives with a checkered past — legal issues with Steelers and a reputation as a disruptive locker-room personality.

“That’s in the past,” Holmes said. “It’s neither here nor there right now. I think being in this new organization is a new move for me and a great opportunity for me to take advantage of.”

Teammates who had been with him elsewhere — Ryan Mundy with the Steelers and Matt Slauson and Matthew Mulligan with the Jets — were enthusiastic about Holmes’ arrival.

“I think he’s a great teammate,” Slauson said. “Things out in New York got overblown just because of the way things went on there. It wasn’t easy at times. There was a lot of crap going on.

“He’s a very passionate guy and that’s all it was — just him being a passionate player. There were a lot of guys who weren’t happy at times, the way things were being run. But what he can do for this team is incredible. So I’m super excited to have him part of this team. He makes us a much stronger offense gives us al the more weapons.”

The dysfunction of the Jets locker room might have played a role in Holmes’ problems there. Mundy, who played two seasons with Holmes in Pittsburgh, didn’t see that part of him.

“In Pittsburgh we had a great group of guys — a lot of veteran leadership,” Mundy said. “Guys who understood how to ‘police the locker room.’ And it wasn’t like Santonio was a problem guy. He did what he needed to do. He’s a special guy. A great playmaker and I have nothing but good things to say about him. And good memories about him.”

Trestman didn’t ignore the baggage that came with Holmes. But a more favorable environment — after what likely has been a humbling experience — might bring out the best in Holmes.

“We’ve spent time with him,” Trestman said. “People change. They get into new venues, new environments. You’re out for awhile. You get a hard look at where you are — not only in your work life [but] other aspects of your life.

“We feel he’s coming here in a good place. He’s coming into a great locker room. Guys have reached out to him and are willing to help him and give him an opportunity to help our team. But it will be aprocess and it will be day-to-day. But [we’re] off to a good start and we’ll see where it takes us.”

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