- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

It has taken only four games for Antwaan Randle El to join a distinguished group of offensive players that includes starters like Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and Randy Thomas and reserves like James Thrash — the Joe Gibbs Tough Guy Club.

Signed during the offseason to be a punt returner and possession receiver, Randle El has won Gibbs’ admiration with a will-do-anything attitude and a can-make-anything-happen modus operandi that has him becoming a larger part of the Washington Redskins offense.

“What you continue to do with a guy like that is put it in his hands because he makes good decisions and good plays,” Gibbs said. “And he’s a tough guy. As I’ve gotten to know him and we’ve gotten to work with him, you can tell he’s physical.”

Translation: The Redskins are getting more from Randle El than maybe even they expected.

Through four games, Randle El has 31 touches for 204 yards — 12 receptions, six rushes and 13 punt returns. He has lined up at every position except for offensive line and quarterback. He is in constant motion before the snap. And last week featured his first opportunity to pass, but instead he scrambled for a 4-yard gain.

Gibbs likes his toughness and associate head coach-offense Al Saunders — the person responsible for integrating Randle El into his offense — trusts his decision making. Randle El has given Saunders a component he hasn’t enjoyed in 20 years.

“He’s such a talented guy and brings so much energy to the team, you enjoy trying to find creative ways to get him involved, whether it’s as a receiver, ball carrier or passes like we tried last week,” Saunders said. “He makes such good decisions so he doesn’t put us in harm’s way. Every week, we’ll have three, four different things that we’ll come up with that are new and in conjunction with the things we carry through each game.”

Randle El is on pace for career highs in receptions and rushes and he is expected to make an impact in the passing game — he is 14-for-16 for 128 yards and two touchdowns in his career. In last year’s Super Bowl, he had a 43-yard touchdown to Hines Ward.

“The way I’ve been used is certainly expected,” Randle El said. “It doesn’t take time to get used to because it’s the same things I did in Pittsburgh, but it’s a lot more intense and I’m a lot more involved here. And that’s what I wanted.”

And that’s why he left a comfortable situation with the Steelers, where he became a full-time starter last year and had 35 catches (only one touchdown) but was more recognized by his punt return efforts — a 10.2-yard average and two touchdowns in 2005 and his passing prowess — 3-for-3.

The transition from Steelers to Redskins, from Ben Roethlisberger to Mark Brunell, has been seamless.

“It happened early on,” Randle El said. “I found it during the [organized team activities] and mini camps. I came in and was myself in the locker room and people know what I had done in other places, but they were waiting to see what I could do here. I’ve done some things on the field to show them and now it’s a matter of continuing to do it here.”

When Randle El says “it,” he can be talking about several things. He said he acquired the toughness trait while playing quarterback at Indiana and honed it working with Ward in Pittsburgh.

“I’ve always had it,” he said. “To play quarterback, you have to be tough. I wasn’t a guy that would sit in the pocket and take sacks — I would run and so I took a lot of hits. And playing with Hines [Ward], you had to be toughness or you weren’t going to play.”

And the smarts? Randle El shrugs off that slice of praise — which was prominent during his scramble against Jacksonville. After taking the handoff, he looked downfield to Moss before tucking it for a short gain.

“It was first-and-10 and I got 4 yards when it could have been a potential disaster,” he said. “[The quarterback background] has something to do with it, but it’s also common sense. If nothing’s there, make something else happen. My whole thing on that play was, if the pass wasn’t there, do something else because I knew there would be a lane open because half their defense was playing the pass.”

In addition to the plays where he actually gets the football, Randle El runs numerous plays like fake hand-offs, fake reverses, etc., that give defenses another element to worry about.

“If you have a guy that can run and throw, that gives you a lot of things to watch for,” Redskins linebacker Warrick Holdman said. “That’s the kind of weapon we have with Randle El. As a linebacker, you find yourself trying to play everything at the same time — will he run it or pass it?”

Randle El burst onto the Redskins’ radar two years ago when he had two catches for 37 yards and six punt returns for 111 yards in a 16-7 Pittsburgh victory.

“The big thing we knew about him was that he would give tremendous effort,” Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “They were very good as a staff in Pittsburgh in keeping him on the move because when’s on the move, he’s dangerous.”

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