Steelers quotebook

<b>ANTWAAN RANDLE EL</b><br> <b> You the best punt returning in the league now?</b> <br><br>I always felt I was No. 1. That's how you've got to think. I mean I'm trying to get two more returns to catch him and then break the record. The record's five I think. That's my goal. I just have to continue to work at it.

When did the confidence start to grow?

It grew last year. I think when I got that punt return against Cleveland in the playoff game, that was it. I kind of fed off that. It carried over to the Tennessee game and they called that back. Then it carried over into this year. In the first Cleveland game I had one they called back. I've gotten to the point where I've learned to set up blocks instead of just running and I've gotten some very good blocks and that's always helping me out.

Did you think this would be a big day?

I thought it would be a big day because their punter kills the ball. He kicks it deep so it's easier for you to set up your blocks, but at the same time, you make one or two guys miss - and I think I made 55 miss once or twice - you really have a chance to return the ball.

What about the line drive punt?

He tried to kick it out of bounds and he missed it. His body was turned toward the sideline and he's not a directional punter. You've got a guy who's not used to directional kicking, and when he tried to do that he missed it and it trailed back toward the middle. Those are the ones you try to take to the house because nobody's covering quick enough to cover that ball.

Do your eyes get big on those kinds of punts?

Yeah but you've got to stay poised too or you'll bobble it and everything goes out the window.

Could you take me through that return?

I started one way and made one guy miss, and I got a really good block, but then everybody shifted because I had kind of set up the block. Once everybody got all the way up, I just cut it all the way back. I cut all the way back, got further down toward the end zone and I was trying to let Chidi catch up to get 21. I was going to make 51 miss and 51 grabbed my facemask and that was it.

Were you frustrated you couldn't get in the end zone?

It's more a joy. I wouldn't say frustrating because I know it was right there. When you get a game like this, when you have so many chances to score, and early on in the game, I feel the next couple games I'll get those chances too and that's when the touchdowns are going to come.

You caught the first one at full speed. Were you trying to time that?

I had to get over there and get it. I was set up on the left and when he punted it started over there but the wind took it over the other way. I had to haul to really get over there. I took it on the run and when you do that sometimes that can be good, unless someone's there waiting.

Did you dwell on the drop last week and come out more determined?

No. I didn't at all because I knew what I did. Just like on the direct snap today I took my eye off the ball. That's a bad habit I've developed. It's something I have to get rid of. It's easy to get rid of. It's called concentration. I know I can get that done.

Was it nice to be part of the passing game too?

It's nice to be part of the passing game. They had a play or two in there for me. I feel like when I get going, everybody can get going. It's not just off me, but it's just the excitement. To make big plays like that it helps the offense out. I just like to be a part of that in anyway I can.

Have there been times you wished you were more involved?

Oh, yeah, but at the same time I've got Hines and Plax in front of me. They do a great job of catching and running and making big plays, but when my opportunity comes I have to make the best of it.

Do you suspect teams will stop punting to you?

Yeah. That's kind of the way it happens. That's why you don't want to focus too much on special teams because at any given point they can take it away from you by kicking out of bounds or kicking away from you.

They kept kicking to you tonight didn't they?

It don't always happen like that. They had trust in their coverage team but it don't always happen like that.

How tough is it to block for Randle El?

He messed me up today on my clip in the back. That was his fault.

Was it?

Nah. It wasn't his fault. But I figured he was going in one direction and he cut at the last second and the guy back-turned to me.

How confident is the punt-return unit?

You just have to give him time to catch the ball. That's the big thing, so you have to get your guy early so he can have a chance to return it instead of fair-catching it. Once he catches it, anything's possible. That's how we feel every game.

It feels great. It seemed like I was in there a lot -- kickoffs, punt returns, punt team. I had a real nice block on Antwaan's punt return. It felt good. I laid out big Crockett.

How many fans?

I paid for 12 tickets and heard a lot of other people calling my name. It felt good. A lot of people came down from Youngstown. You could hear them saying 'Youngstown State' in the crowd. Tim Johnson's a really good player. He had like 225 tackles two years in a row.

Are you the good luck charm?

Nah. But it feels good.

Did you reach across and shake Jerry Rice's hand?

Couldn't do it. The ball was snapped real fast, but I did get a picture after the game so it worked out.

What was the motivation for you guys?

Just seeing Dewayne (Washington) getting back out there gave us a huge lift.

Cowher didn't like the lateral, did he?

No, but he got a little smile out of it too. He said 'just be smart when you do something like that.' As long as it didn't hurt the team, I was fine. I was happy for Mark (Bruener). He didn't believe I was going to pitch it to him and when I pitched I screamed his name. It seemed like a designed play because I caught him in stride and he kept going. Mark wanted to know if he got the yards or the catch or what. But it was a fun play. Today was the first time I've seen a lot of guys smiling and having fun, just going out there and making plays and that's something we needed. The pressure's off. Just go out there and play ball and today we did that.

What does it mean to play with a guy like Jerome Bettis?

Aw, man, to play with a guy that's in the top 10 in NFL history, that's something as teammates we're going to cherish the rest of our lives. When we saw 22 yards on the scoreboard that he needed, everybody just buckled down and wanted to get it. I'm just ecstatic for the guy. From how the season started, not being a starter, and to sit there and not complain, just work hard and come back and have a 100-yard rushing day and to move into ninth place, it couldn't happen to a better guy than Jerome.

You've said all along he's the leader of this team, haven't you?

He is. I've learned so much from him about what it takes to be a leader. I've seen how he handled adversity in the early part of the season when they started Amos. He kept going out there working hard. He told me the more success you have the more you have to be a role model and stuff like that. I've learned so much from the guy. Like I said, it couldn't happen to a better guy.

At halftime, Cowher told you they were ready to quit and to force the issue. But you turned it over twice. What happened?

You're right. They were a touchdown away from folding it all in. It was cold out there, they're 3-9 and they really didn't want to come out there and play. But hell we came out in the second half and we turned the ball over two times. It seemed like 'Oh no here we go again.' But the guys never gave up. They continued to fight hard. Our defense came up with some big turnovers and we went down there and punched it in.

When did you sense they weren't too excited about playing?

Probably about mid-third quarter. Maybe they just gave up. When it was cold out there they were ready to go home, a long flight back to California and a losing year, problems with their head coach. Maybe they gave up towards the end but those guys still played hard so I really can't say if they gave up or not.

How's the confidence level when you watch the punt return team?

It's everybody. The special-teams guys want to go out there and block even harder, sometimes too much. You end up blocking them in the back because you want to do too much. He's an exciting special-teams guy. When he's out there on special teams we always feel we have a chance to take it to the house or at least give us good field position, him and Ike (Taylor) on kickoff returns. It's the whole special teams. Those are the units that have played consistently all year. Now our offense and defense have to catch up to our special teams. If we do that we'll be all right.

On blocking for Randle El:

It's easy and it's hard to block for him. It's easy because you know he's always going to make plays and if you do miss your block he's going to make him miss. It's hard because you have no idea where he's going.

Is it hard not to clip?

Yes, but it's fun blocking for him.

Do you feel he can break it any time?

Definitely. He's a game-breaker. There's a confidence growing on our whole special teams. We started off pretty rough but everything's going along pretty smoothly. We're having fun out there.

Steel City Insider Top Stories