Randle El flying under radar

LATROBE – Antwaan Randle El made it look easy, and against a rookie cornerback from a school called Tusculum it's to be expected.

Randle El put a double move on Ricardo Colclough and sprinted under a lofted deep ball from Steelers rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, caught it in stride and coasted past rookie safety Janssen Patton for a score.

Randle El was the only vet in the equation and the result was an easy six, one of his many touchdowns this camp. But the accolades sounded for Roethlisberger. He's the new guy; he's the one everyone's watching; he's what Randle El was three years ago. Now a polished veteran, Randle El is flying under the media radar this camp.

"That's how it works," he said. "When you come in, you're the new guy on the scene. That's the biggest thing right there. If you're the new guy on the scene and you come out and play well, it's like ‘Oh, wow, let's talk to him.' You come out your third season, you expect to have a good camp. I'm trying to do that, but do more when it comes to being productive every day."

He calls it "productive." It's been more like "sensational," like his rookie camp if we remember correctly. This year, though, Randle El's so much better. It was evident the first practice when he blew by safety Troy Polamalu for an easy touchdown. Two days later he put a double move on cornerback Ike Taylor for a 75-yard touchdown catch. Randle El did it again a couple plays later. The next day his block on Colclough sealed the corner for a touchdown run by Duce Staley, and then he beat Polamalu for a 25-yard reception, and then he went way up over tremendous coverage by Colclough to reel in a deep ball from Brian St. Pierre.

He was at it again Saturday, catching a deep pass from Roethlisberger in the middle of four zoning defenders. Had Randle El done this well as a rookie – and he did pretty well – the newsreels would've spun off the projectors. At this camp, there is instead consternation about the coverage skills of Polamalu, Taylor and Colclough, when the fact is Randle El's no longer a novelty -- the converted quarterback from Indiana University. He's become a true receiving threat.

"It's all coming together," he said. "You're coming into your third year and it's not a fact of being relaxed because you know everything. It's a fact of getting better and showing up, not just having flashes here and there but every day coming out and trying to have consistent practices, and good practices, every day."

Randle El credits experience and two years of "pointers" from Hines Ward. Randle El also credits the one year he spent learning the slot position from veteran Terance Mathis in 2002. "He was a BIG help," Randle El said with emphasis. "I've just built on that. This year, I think something's come out of those two years."

The pass routes have become more precise. His stutter steps, or double moves as they are called, are not only working, they've become dangerous. Ask Colclough. The rookie second-round pick injured a hip flexor trying to stop Friday's touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Randle El.

"The biggest thing is being consistent in the way you run routes," Randle El said. "Then, when you do a double move, they're so used to seeing that one move it's hard for a corner not to bite on it. But at the same time you have to be careful because you're going against these guys every day, so you've got to be more creative day in and day out."

Randle El won't reveal his goals for the season, but it's certain he'd like to reverse the direction his receiving stats went last year. He caught 47 passes as a rookie and 37 last year.

His punt-returning average on the other hand nearly doubled last season. His rookie average of 6.9 yards per return went up to 12.0 with two touchdowns.

Randle El finished third in the AFC in punt-return average, but was clearly the best over the final 10 games when he averaged 15.5 yards per return. The two AFC front-runners, Dante Hall and Phillip Buchanon, averaged 10.1 and 13.4 yards per return, respectively, over those same 10 games.

"I also had two of my returns called back," Randle El reminded.

Can he be the best in the league this year?

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I could've been last year. I feel I can be the best at whatever I do."

Judging from this year's training camp, there's little doubt about it.

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