There is a streak that comes through Maurice Jones-Drew’s mind when he remembers coaching Dolphins rookie safety Jevon Holland as a teenager. Holland was playing it safe on KT Prep, a 7v7 club football team based in the Bay Area in Northern California, and the opposing team’s quarterback “was dicing us,” Jones said- Drew, a former All-Pro running back with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jones-Drew warned Holland of the quarterback’s tendencies: he moved his eyes to the right to attract safety, then came back across the field and found a receiver down the seam, but Holland l reassured: “I had that, coach. Understood.”
In the last decisive practice, the quarterback repeated the same move he had used the entire game – looking to his right, then making his way to the other side. Only this time Holland was waiting for him, getting an interception which he turned into a pick-six.
“I baited him the whole game to throw this thing,” Jones-Drew, Holland told him.
Whether you’re around Gerald Alexander, the Dolphins’ rookie safety coach or defensive backs, this game is the manifestation of a saying often uttered by both: “Where technique meets opportunity, occur. “
At the start of the season, Alexander used it as insurance for the changing games that lay in store for Holland, the No.36 pick in the 2021 draft. Over the past few weeks, that has embodied his game as he moved into a full-time role and has become an integral part of the mid-season defense turnaround.
In Thursday’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Holland apparently set the tone for the night with a crushing blow to Baltimore wide receiver Devin Duvernay on the sidelines. He went on to put on his best game yet, registering five tackles, one sack and two passing deflections as the Dolphins upset the Ravens in prime time.
Holland brought an uplifting spirit to the pitch and to press conferences, but he also quickly gained the respect of his teammates and coaches with a maturity rooted in his upbringing.
Holland was born in Coquitlam, B.C., where his father, Robert, played in the Canadian Football League in the 1990s and then coached (Robert also briefly spent time in the NFL with the San 49ers. Francisco). As a child, Holland played football, lacrosse and soccer, ironically without turning to the favorite ice hockey of Canadians. Holland’s older brother, Jamirr, briefly played in the CFL, and his younger sister, Jada, plays basketball at UC Riverside.
When Holland was younger, his dad would use the DVR and constantly rewind football games to break down games. Holland joked that at the time he hated it, but that laid the foundation for his thoroughness and attention to detail.
Holland, 21, not only credited his family with paving the way for his athletic future, but also his rapid maturation.
“I have to say, it’s my parents, really, who give me the leeway to grow up, take care of my sister and drive her to school,” Holland said. “Little things like that made me grow up faster than me. Then having my brother, he is four years older than me, he is close in age. Close enough to where I can learn from him and his mistakes and the things he does well, then far enough that I can correct them myself or avoid something. Same thing in football with my brother too.
When Holland was 8, his family moved to Pleasanton, a suburb of the Bay Area, where his father is from. Holland’s father and brother both played as defensive backs, as did him, but he also spent time as a wide receiver in high school. He improved in both positions but stayed with security because more schools recruited him for this position.
Jones-Drew had heard of Holland while playing with Bishop O’Dowd – Holland was a teammate with rookie goalie Alijah Vera-Tucker of the New York Jets, whom the Dolphins face on Sunday – and one of the most hopeful prospects touted of the area, but seeing it up close was different.
“You can tell who has the ability to play in the National Football League and who doesn’t right away.” Jones-Drew said. “You can tell it by the way they walk, the way they move. …
“Obviously his father is the foundation of who he is and what he’s been able to do. And we just sort of walked in and put the little frosting on top. “
With KT Prep, Holland played it safe, but he was sometimes asked to play in the corner and “lock the top receiver and it would be done,” Jones-Drew said.
And then Holland would switch sides and play receiver and “he was one of our best receivers, if not the best receiver we’ve had too.”
In a stacked team that included Nevada quarterback Carson Strong, potentially one of the best quarterbacks in the 2022 Draft, Holland was “the cream of the crop.”
Ahead of Holland pulling out of the 2020 varsity season, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal even told Holland to prepare for a few offensive snaps, a testament to Holland’s momentum in a schedule that regularly draws the best athletes in the country.
“He can do anything,” Jones-Drew said.
When the Dolphins selected Holland in the draft, making him the best defenseman in the table, the defensive coaching staff were more aware of what they were getting than perhaps any other team in the league. Alexander and defensive line coach Austin Clark both unsuccessfully recruited him from California and USC, respectively, while they were coaches in college.
Coach Brian Flores said after the selection that Holland was “one of my favorite players to watch”, noting his versatility. Jones-Drew called Holland the best player in the draft, which he admits was a bit biased but rooted in the same reasons as Flores. Holland’s 50 quick passes as a safety are just behind teammate Brandon Jones, and the team have used him as a punt returner since trading Jakeem Grant at the start of the season.
“I think he’s mature beyond his years,” said Flores. “I think he’s smart. I think he’s obviously talented. These are all the things we loved about its release. I think he is really a professional. I think from an intangible point of view he’s got a lot of stuff we’re looking for. You combine that with his athletic ability, his ability to do multiple things. If he follows the way he prepares, the way he trains, the way he intends to improve, he will be fine in this league.
But it was Holland off the pitch that Jones-Drew said separated him from his peers. The club team had a group chat and Holland was the leader, making sure everyone was in practice on time or rested before a game.
Jones-Drew referred to Holland’s outspokenness against racial injustice during nationwide protests after George Floyd’s murder and how it was a portrayal of his whole personality: someone who hadn’t not afraid to speak up and ask questions, but never did so in a disrespectful manner.
“He had everything you were looking for in a player,” Jones-Drew said. “Very rarely do you see that perfect player who is going to be a dog on the court but has such great leadership off the court.”
Holland got his first start in Week 2, but since Jason McCourty suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 4, he started the last six games alongside Jones, rarely leaving field. He recorded his first sack in a Week 7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, then his first interception in a Week 9 win over the Houston Texans. Over the past three weeks, Pro Football Focus has ranked the Netherlands as the third best security in the NFL. Meanwhile, his presses (nine) rank number one and his 8.3 passer rating puts him in fourth.
He has been at the center of the Dolphins’ unique game plan against quarterback Lamar Jackson, completing 21 blitzes, the most defensive backs since NFL Next Gen Stats began tracking in the 2016 season.
“If you go back and watch the tape from training camp, he was a step behind,” said linebacker Jerome Baker. “And then every week it was like he got better and better. I remember the one workout where he was a step behind – well at first he was a step back, then he deflected the ball and then the next week he actually caught the pick, and of course the following Sunday he ended up catching a pick.
“He’s one of those guys who if he keeps doing what he’s doing he’s going to be one of the best goalies in this league. He’s young, but he really enjoys being there with the guys and playing and just going hard. i am just surprised [by] his leadership there. He really took it to heart. When the guys came down he stepped up and he knew we were going to lean on him a lot and he definitely rose to the challenge and his cap is going to be so high. I’m really happy for him and honestly I’m happy he’s on our team.
Holland’s Twitter handle is “HollywoodVon”. It’s not a nod to the California tourist attraction or the local Broward County town, but to his father’s nickname: “It’s just his way of playing. He had blonde, flashy hair, ”said Holland – passed down to him from his father’s friends.
Considering the flashes he has shown in recent weeks as a potential star, this is a more than fitting nickname.
This story was originally published November 19, 2021 3:50 pm.