- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Antwaan Randle El knew what he wanted: a place where his do-it-all offensive talents would be better used than they were on the run-first Pittsburgh Steelers.

The wide receiver joined the Washington Redskins in March and finally delivered a breakout game for his new club last week in a 21-19 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The loss was just another in a dismal season for the Redskins, but it was the high mark of the year, thus far, for Randle El: He caught a season-high six passes for 85 yards and a touchdown and threw a 40-yard strike to fellow receiver Brandon Lloyd, his first completion of the season.

It was a success that Randle El, ironically, attributed to the renewed focus by the Redskins on their ground attack, which gained 210 yards in the team’s second-best rushing performance of the season.

“If you run 15 times a game and it’s effective, it will open up everything in the passing game,” Randle El said. “We got one-on-one [coverage] outside so we said, ‘Let’s go do it.’ Earlier in the season, we couldn’t run the ball that well, so everyone stayed in Cover-2 [defense].

“We’re focusing on the run game now. It’s almost like we tried a certain way and then we had to come back and focus on something we do better.”

With Sunday’s performance, Randle El improved his season numbers to 28 catches, 284 yards and three touchdowns. He also has gained 77 yards on 16 carries and 296 yards on 32 punt returns, including an 87-yard touchdown in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Randle El gets 3.5 touches a game on offense, about what he received the past three seasons with the Steelers. He has, however, played more: Randle El started only 27 of 72 games for the Steelers, and has started all but two for the Redskins.

“If you’re not getting a bunch of opportunities and you’re winning, it’s different, but we’re not winning,” Randle El said. “If I had been here two or three years and this had happened, it would be very disappointing. But this is my first year here, and everybody had to learn a new offense. You expect some inconsistency, some struggles.”

True, but the Redskins had $31 million worth of expectations for Randle El.

“We always have three or four different ways for Antwaan to throw the ball, four or five ways for him to run the ball,” said associate head coach-offense Al Saunders. “We’ve made a real commitment to run the ball, so that eliminates some of the things we can do with Antwaan. In my opinion, he’s a starting receiver. But in order for a receiver to put up big numbers, you’ve got to throw it more.

“Antwaan became more viable as a receiver [last Sunday] because he started at the ‘X’ [because Lloyd was benched]. He played more, and the ‘X’ gets more downfield shots. Antwaan played great. He’s a big-play guy. You’d like to see him have those opportunities down the road.”

So would Randle El, but the Redskins don’t plan to move him to the ‘X’ on a regular basis despite the big game he produced against the Eagles.

“I got some opportunities and I’m glad I was able to take advantage of them,” said Randle El, who had caught just four passes in the five games before Sunday. “I hadn’t had the ball thrown to me downfield too much, and I was able to get open underneath. You feel like you’re really a part of things when you’re involved like that.”

Randle El, meanwhile, also has been contained in as a punt returner of late. He averaged 12.4 yards on 22 returns in the first half of the season and returned a kick at least 14 yards in seven of the eight games. But he has managed just 24 yards on 10 returns in the past five games and admitted he has run horizontally too often in hopes of breaking a big one.

“They’ve been skying the ball a lot so I’ve had to fair-catch or catch it with a guy in front of me,” Randle El said. “I’ve had to take a lot more chances instead of catching it comfortably and working with it. Teams are trying to pin me in the corner. I very seldom catch balls in the open field.”

Randle El could’ve been talking about his year on offense, too.

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