- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

The only player in Division I history to throw for 6,000 yards and run for 3,000, Antwaan Randle El dazzled Washington as a punt returner while with Pittsburgh in 2004. He capped his four years with the Steelers by throwing a touchdown pass to help win Super Bowl XL.

That versatility prompted the Redskins to give Randle El a six-year, $30 million contract in March 2006. But Randle El didn’t deliver, catching a career-low 32 passes and averaging a subpar 8.8 yards a punt return.

“That has been the question in the offseason and leading up to the regular season, ‘When are you going to produce?’ ” Randle El said.

At least in Week 1, those questions were answered emphatically. Randle El caught five passes for a career-high 162 yards. His 182 total yards were the third-most of his career, trailing a monster game as a return man against Oakland in 2003 and a big afternoon in a playoff game against Cleveland as a rookie in 2002.

“You don’t ever make predictions. You just have to go out and play your game,” Randle El said. “I always say when opportunity’s there and the ball’s in the air, you’ve got to go make the play. Jason [Campbell, the quarterback] gave me a couple of chances to make some plays. It had a lot to do with the run going [well] early and them feeling the corners could man up on us.”

Randle El beat Dolphins cornerback Travis Daniels for 35 yards for Campbell’s first completion late in the first quarter. After a 16-yard grab over the middle in the second quarter, Campbell and Randle El teamed up for a gorgeous 49-yard completion on which he extended past Daniels. That play set up Clinton Portis’ touchdown run — on which Randle El threw a crucial block — two plays later in the third quarter.

“On that [bomb] a lot of guys would have shut it down because it went past where he thought he was going to get the ball,” coach Joe Gibbs said. “[But] Randle El never backs off. He’s going 100 miles per hour.”

That’s also true when the ball’s not in his hands. Generously listed as 5 feet, 10 inches and 190 pounds, the college quarterback takes as much pride in his blocking as he does catching the ball or returning kicks.

“That’s something I got from [Steelers receiver Hines Ward] when I first got in the league, just being physical,” Randle El said.

An 8-yard catch was good for a first down in the fourth quarter before Randle El completed his stat sheet presence by corralling a tipped, 54-yard Hail Mary at the Miami 3 but couldn’t get past defenders Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor as time expired in regulation.

“We ask our receivers to do two things,” associate head coach Al Saunders said. “We tell them to be where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there. That means don’t be creative with your routes by cutting things off. The other thing is never fool the quarterback. That way, our quarterback can throw on rhythm and on time because he’s not holding the ball to determine what the receiver is doing. Antwaan’s extremely dependable in that regard.”

If Randle El can be depended on for anything close to the production he delivered against the Dolphins, No. 1 receiver Santana Moss will be thrilled, and likely will face less double coverage.

Not only was No. 3 receiver Brandon Lloyd was held without a catch, but Moss had just three catches for 28 yards (and two drops) against Miami while tight end Chris Cooley had a lone 10-yarder.

The 16-13 overtime victory was just the second in seven games for the Redskins in which neither Moss nor Cooley produced more than 50 yards.

“Antwaan pretty much held it down by himself when it comes to the receiving thing,” Moss said. “He did all we needed and all we could ask for. I guess we all knew that someone else could do it, but now we see it. If we put it all together and all three of us go out there and have one of those days, it will be a nice day.”

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