- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

The threat of Santana Moss‘ speed drew an Indianapolis Colts cornerback and safety with him, leaving fellow receiver Antwaan Randle El free to streak wide-open across the field and haul in a touchdown pass from Jason Campbell three snaps into the Jim Zorn era Sunday night in Canton, Ohio.

That’s how the Washington Redskins’ offense was supposed to work but rarely did, after Randle El signed a six-year, $30 million contract with the team in March 2006.

“They brought me here to be with ‘Tana and have us open things up for each other,” Randle El said. “It hasn’t happened the way we planned it. It was hard all the time to get a big play and then it got to the point where somebody’s nicked, somebody’s down and can’t go. We never jelled completely.

”It’s like, ‘Oh well, ‘[Redskins owner Dan Snyder has] brought in another guy who didn’t really show off his stuff.’ I don’t want to be that guy. I’m not going to be that guy. Everyone knows I go out and work hard, but the numbers don’t show it.”

Indeed, Moss and Randle El never scored in the same game until the penultimate game of 2007. In 27 games regular-season games together - Moss missed four with sore hamstrings and Randle El one with the same ailment - they have scored 15 touchdowns. Their combined numbers - an average of 94 catches and 1,237 yards the past two years - were worthy of a lone Pro Bowl wideout, not a pair of starting receivers.

“With [former associate coach Al Saunders] and Coach [Joe] Gibbs, they were butting heads,” Randle El said. “Now you’ve got one voice, one guy calling the plays.”

That voice belongs to Zorn, who promised that despite Randle El’s arthroscopic right knee surgery May 6, he’ll top the career-highs of 51 catches and 728 yards he set in 2007. Zorn, then Seattle’s quarterbacks coach, saw Randle El and Moss have their best game together. The tandem combined for 16 catches, 162 yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins’ 2007 wild card loss at Seattle.

“[Antwaan will] catch more than 51 balls,” Zorn said. “It’s just going to happen. He has been outstanding. For a guy that’s come off a knee [injury], he’s got a real hop in his step.”

Randle El said he hasn’t felt this good since 2005, when he helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win their first Super Bowl in 26 years.

“The first year here, I got tangled up somehow and my knee got kinda nicked,” Randle El said. “I felt that pain and then it would go away and then come back. Last year it was there and then it would go away and come back again. All offseason, I worked hard training and it wasn’t there. But after two days of minicamp, it flared up and swelled overnight. So we had to get [the scope], so I could be out here doing the things I’m doing.”

The former Indiana quarterback, who turns 29 on Aug. 17, has done those things well since camp began.

“Antwaan has been fantastic,” receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “His route running has improved a lot since he’s been here. He doesn’t have Santana’s breakaway speed, but he’s so wiggly that the slot is probably the best spot for him. He knows how to use his body to find the open area and get yards after the catch. The best is yet to come for Antwaan.”

It might be. After all, Seattle slot receiver Bobby Engram had 94 catches in 2007. Of course, the Seahawks didn’t have an outside target like Moss or a Pro Bowl tight end like Chris Cooley, but Campbell still envisions serious dividends from Randle El in 2008.

“This offense should be great for Antwaan,” Campbell said. “It’s an offense that gives you a lot of freedom to get open. But when you’re doing that, the quarterback and the receiver have to be on the same page, make sure that you’re reading the same things. I like the way he’s running his routes. They’re crisp. He makes a decision and goes.”

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