- Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Perhaps no other Oakland Raiders player epitomized the state of the rebuilding franchise during the nationally broadcast Thanksgiving Day game against the Dallas Cowboys more than receiver Andre Holmes.
He entered the day with five career catches for 76 yards and the product of Hillsdale College (also alma mater to left tackle Jared Veldheer) responded with a breakout game -- seven receptions for 136 yards -- albeit in a 31-24 defeat.
More to the point, Holmes was one of 16 undrafted players who suited up for the Raiders against the Cowboys, seven of whom were initially signed by Oakland's second-year regime of general manager Reggie McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen: rookie quarterback Matt McGloin, receivers Rod Streater and rookie Greg Jenkins, punter Marquette King, offensive lineman Lucas Nix, rookie defensive end Ryan Robinson and linebacker Kaelin Burnett.
“You look across the league and there's a lot of undrafteds starting and a lot of undrafteds playing,” Holmes said Monday. “It's what you do on the field on Sunday.”
Or, in Holmes' case, what he did last Thursday to the team with which he spent 2011 and 2012.
“We liked Andre,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said after the game. “You know, we had him here for a couple of years on our roster and on our practice [squad].
“He is a big, strong guy and can make those kinds of plays. He has good length and he has good ball skills, so we certainly have a healthy respect for him because we know him pretty well.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Holmes had to sit out the season's first four games due to a league-mandated suspension for failing a performance-enhancing substance test and did not get his first catch with Oakland until Nov. 17 at the Houston Texans. He became more of a factor with Denarius Moore missing the past two games with an injured shoulder.
And yes, Holmes circled his calendar when the Cowboys game came up, and his teammates noticed.
“When you don't get drafted, that kind of [sets] you back, but it also gets you that edge,” said fellow non-draftee Streater. “You want to work hard and you always feel like you've got something to prove. That's kind of the thing with Andre.
“It was like the perfect situation going against the Cowboys. They let him go, and he was undrafted.”
Proverbial chip on the shoulder, much? Even if Holmes was initially signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Minnesota Vikings in 2011?
If so, you could make the same claim for the eight other undrafted Raiders who played against the Cowboys and were first signed elsewhere before finding a home in Oakland -- tight end Jeron Mastrud (Tampa Bay), fullback Marcel Reece (Miami), middle linebacker Nick Roach (San Diego), safety Brandian Ross (Green Bay), running back Jeremy Stewart (Philadelphia), fullback Jamize Olawale (Dallas), long-snapper Jon Condo (Dallas) and defensive tackle Daniel Muir (Green Bay).
“It's taken me three years to be able to do it and I think it's just the development and me figuring out the skills that I need when I'm out on the field,” Holmes said. “Part of it could be opportunity and things like that, but I mean, I wouldn't say that I wasn't doing it before or anything like that. It was just the right time. The ball was coming to me and I was able to make plays on it.
“I've been able to use my strengths a lot more and playing bigger and making sure I come down with the 50-50 balls. I know when I was a rookie that was one thing I wasn't really doing. It was more of like a 20-80 ball, know what I mean?”