- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2009

Antwaan Randle El’s career with the Washington Redskins is on the verge of a 360.

In March 2006, seven weeks after his touchdown pass clinched the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory in Super Bowl XL, Randle El signed with the Redskins because of a lucrative contract offer and the tantalizing prospect of being an every-down receiver.

And while that promise came true as Randle El started 45 games the past three seasons, the electricity that prompted the Redskins to covet him has been sporadic. He set personal bests with 53 catches and four touchdowns last season and with 728 yards in 2007, but those numbers remain pedestrian.

Given that lack of big-time production and Randle El’s 5-foot-10 frame, he’s back to fighting for his job. Coach Jim Zorn appears to wants 6-2 Devin Thomas or 6-4 Malcolm Kelly to return Randle El to the slot role he battled to get out of in Pittsburgh.

“He’s already our starter,” Zorn said. “It’s up to the other guys to unseat him. He’s easily our third receiver, but is he our second receiver? He’s really more comfortable inside, and I do see our young receivers improving. He has responded very well. He competes hard. He’s got a great attitude.”

Quarterback Jason Campbell and No. 1 receiver Santana Moss each said Zorn’s decision to make Randle El earn his job didn’t anger him.

“Antwaan’s a professional,” Campbell said. “I think he’s handling it real well. He hasn’t [complained]. He knows he’s still going to get a lot of balls, a lot of catches. The slot receiver in the West Coast offense is just as primary as the outside receivers against certain coverages. He’s still going to be a big part of our offense.”

In four seasons with the Steelers, Randle El made 162 catches for 2,012 yards, but he chose to leave Pittsburgh to get more opportunities. Still, the ever-upbeat Randle El declined to view Zorn’s decision as a knock on him.

“I got to go out and continue to show that I need to be out there, that I can help our team by being on the field at all times, rather than just coming in on third down or when we go [three wide receivers],” Randle El said. “[Zorn] said, ‘You’ve done a good job, but I’m going to give these young guys a chance. You continue to do your thing. Don’t slough off.’ ”

Zorn said that even if Randle El loses out to Thomas or Kelly, he’ll still play at least half the offensive snaps. Not that being on the field 50 percent of the time would satisfy Randle El, whom receivers coach Stan Hixon called “Mr. Dependable.”

“I might be out there pretty often, but there’s still that [feeling of] you can contribute out there every play,” Randle El said. “Your presence out there means a lot every play.”

Nor does Randle El look at his height as a negative, even though the Redskins drafted Thomas and Kelly in part because of their size, which Washington has lacked at receiver since Rod Gardner was traded before the 2005 season.

“The way I look at it, I was perfectly made to be who I am, in the position that I am, where I am. If I was 6-3, I’d be a quarterback,” Randle El said. “I made those plays in the red zone with the Steelers. It ain’t because [Moss and I are] short guys. It’s the offense being down. You don’t need height to make those plays.”

While acknowledging that Thomas has improved from the rookie who managed just 15 catches and no touchdowns in 2008 and that the oft-injured Kelly has displayed terrific hands in camp, Randle El isn’t simply accepting a backup role as he’s about to turn 30.

“I always looked at my shortness as another competitive edge, as motivation,” Randle El said. “I’m going to prove to you that I can play.”

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