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Randle El's True Position: Playmaker




Two of the NFL's hardest-hitting teams met at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh back on Nov. 28 of the 2004 season. The Redskins managed to stay with one of the league's elite teams for most of the way before falling 16-7.

Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did just enough for his team's offense, Jerome Bettis finished with 100 yards and Jeff Reed made good on three field goal tries.

But what Redskins coaches remembered about that Week 12 matchup from two seasons ago was something else: the elusiveness of punt returner Antwaan Randle El.

The Redskins have liked Randle El ever since the 2002 season, when he entered the league with the Steelers following an outstanding college career at Indiana.

Earlier this week, Randle El made his first appearance as a new Redskin and one of the things head coach Joe Gibbs pointed out centered on that game two years ago in the Steel City.

"We could not tackle that guy," Gibbs said.

Randle El returned six punts for 111 yards, with a long of 60 yards, in Pittsburgh's win two seasons ago. Basically, he left Redskins punt cover teams bewildered with an assortment of crisp moves. He added two catches for 37 yards, putting additional skills on display.

Based on that game alone, Redskins officials knew that they would do as much as possible to add Randle El with the next opportunity.

As far as 2006, Randle El is excited about being involved in the Redskins' offense and returning punts for special teams coach Danny Smith.

Said Gibbs: "We have a player here who can do a lot of things. He can run, he can throw and he can run back punts and kickoffs. He's kind of an unusual person. We spent some time showing him offensively what we think he'll be doing for us. We're all excited about that."

"The Redskins know what it takes to win," said Randle El, explaining why he chose Washington over other suitors, such as Pittsburgh and Chicago. "They know about putting the right coaches and players together in the right situations.

When Al Saunders joined the Redskins last month as associate head coach-offense, he said something interesting and maybe illuminating when he was asked about his offensive philosophy.

Saunders seemed to say that the role of a quarterback should be not so much as the focal point of an offense. Rather, the quarterback needs to facilitate an offense by getting the ball into the hands of playmakers.

On Monday, the Redskins introduced one of the league's most dynamic playmakers in Randle El. That's something they came to understand from that November game in 2004.

Of course, if you want to extend the idea to preseason games, there's more.

In just his second week in the NFL, Randle El stunned the Redskins at FedExField. That was in August of 2002 in a game the Redskins won 35-34 despite the fact that Randle El took a handoff from the Bus and cruised 32 yards to the end zone on a reverse and later caught a 17-yard TD pass from Tee Martin.

Actually, if you want to list Antwaan Randle El by position, here is what you should put: playmaker.

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