Steelers, Randle El open bag of tricks

<b>LATROBE –</b> Antwaan Randle El lined up under quarterback and took the snap, but he didn't run the option or a keeper or a bootleg or anything else designed to take advantage of the wide receiver's quickness.

Instead, Randle El threw a wide-receiver screen pass in the flat to Hines Ward. But the ball bounced far short for an incompletion.

"I shouted it," Randle El said after Monday's practice.

Shorted it?

"No. Shouted. That's slang," he said. "Kendrell [Bell] was coming. He was rollin', man."

The next play – the same play – was very different. This time, Randle El was on the receiving end of the wide-receiver screen pass. He caught it, stepped to the side to miss a tackle and accelerated up the field for a touchdown. It's what Randle El showed Steelers fans as a rookie last season.

A natural born playmaker, Randle El caught 47 passes for 489 yards (10.4 average), returned 11 punts for 257 yards (6.9), rushed 19 times for 134 yards (7.1) and returned 32 kickoffs for 733 yards (22.9). He also completed 7 of 8 passes for 45 yards (6.5).

He did it all. Now, he's ready to do it all again, only better. Most important to the former Indiana University quarterback, however, is his receiving skills. In his first year at the new position, Randle El looked like he'd been doing it his whole life, but looks can be deceiving.

"I've grown a whole lot," he said. "I'm not thinking so much, in terms of where I'm supposed to be and what route I've got. I've learned a lot more through the minicamps and off-season and now I'm just like in a groove. It's now a question of understanding the entire offense, the entire concept, not just my route."

Randle El is still the third receiver on a team with a pair of 1,300-yard receivers in Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. The Steelers also added a pass-catching tight end and have a pair of running backs who are in much better shape than they were a year ago. It appears as if Randle El's playmaking opportunities could be lessened.

"It may limit my chances on the field but you've got to remember we have the ability to use three wide receivers at any given time," he said. "We have packages that get me in the game. I know they're going to use me, so I don't worry about that. They want to run more, but when it's time to get us in, they've got plays for me."

The Steelers spent the first week of camp working on the basics of their offense, but began putting Randle El into his specialty, trick plays, when they began using him as a holder Saturday behind quarterback Tommy Maddox.

Randle El isn't quite as polished as Maddox at holding for placements, but "you're going to have to account for him," said special-teams coach Kevin Spencer.

And even if Randle El flubs a snap or two, Coach Bill Cowher has already said "if it's a bad snap, that might not be a bad thing," considering Randle El's improvisational skills.

"First and foremost we need someone to come in for Tommy when it comes to holding and get it down and get a good kick for Jeff [Reed]," Randle El said. "That's the biggest thing. But also, trick plays will keep teams on their toes."

So, should Steelers fans expect Randle El to begin taking more snaps from center? After all, those types of plays have served coordinator Mike Mularkey well the last couple of years.

"That's in the wind," Randle El said. "I'm not going to focus too much on that. Like I've always said, if it comes to me, it's big-time for me and I'll love it. If it doesn't, it doesn't."

Jim Wexell

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