Randle El's unique skills bolster Redskins
He plays a prominent if hardly orthodox role on a team that has the look of a contender.
And judging how chatty and upbeat Antwaan Randle El came across last week, the Redskins' wide receiver/punt returner is happy to be in Washington.
He does wonder what might have been had the Steelers kept together the team that won the 2005 world championship.
"I think we could have defended," Randle El said last week, even while acknowledging how much of a setback an offseason motorcycle accident proved to be for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "They had some problems here and there, and they just struggled.
"I just feel like (if) we could have kept that team together, then we could have overcome that wave and Ben could have got better and come back healthy."
If the first half of Washington's season is any indication, Randle El has a legitimate chance for a return trip to the Super Bowl. The Redskins take a 6-2 record into tonight's game against the visiting Steelers and have kept pace with the Giants in the rugged NFC East.
Their balanced offense is led by running back Clinton Portis and quarterback Jason Campbell, who has not thrown an interception in 230 pass attempts this season. The Redskins are No. 6 in the NFL in total defense, and their special teams units have big-play capability -- as Santana Moss showed last Sunday with an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Randle El gives them another dimension: The seven-year veteran may be the NFL's ultimate wild card.
"You never know what he's going to do," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said of his former teammate. "He can make anything happen, he can make something out of nothing and make a big play for their team."
Ward knows as well as anybody how Randle El's diverse set of skills lend themselves to exploiting a defense.
With the Steelers leading the Seahawks, 14-10, in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL, Randle El got the ball on a reverse and tossed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Ward. That play delivered the decisive blow, and the Steelers won a fifth Super Bowl.
Randle El is the only wide receiver to throw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder can impact a game in many different ways, as evidenced by the fact that he has at least one pass completion, reception and punt return of more than 15 yards this season.
"They do a nice job of using his gifts to make their thing go," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
The same thing could have been said about the Steelers a couple of years ago.
But following the 2005 season, the Steelers let Randle El and starting free safety Chris Hope leave as free agents. Randle El, who signed a seven-year, $31 million deal with the Redskins, said it stung a little that the Steelers did not make more of an effort to re-sign him.
"I just felt that the way I played during my last season during the playoffs and in the Super Bowl, I think that there could have been something that could have been done," Randle El said. "I guess they weren't moving in terms of numbers and went a different way; I don't fault them for that at all. I guess that is when it really comes down to the business part of it, and while it can be hurtful, you have to understand it."
Randle El has a chance to hurt the Steelers tonight. Given his versatility and athleticism, the Redskins could have a few trick plays in store for the Steelers.
"Hopefully, he doesn't make any big plays on us," said Ward, who stays in touch with Randle El. "But I'm always a big fan of Antwaan."