Teams looking for their own Randle El

Saturday, September 2nd 2006, 1:40 pm
By: News On 6

CINCINNATI (AP) _ Who wouldn't want their own Randle El?

The moves of a running back. The hands of a receiver. The arm of a quarterback. The versatility to change the course of a Super Bowl, the way Antwaan Randle El did with Pittsburgh.

His 43-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward sealed the Steelers' 21-10 victory over Seattle in Detroit and got the rest of the league thinking. On draft weekend, several teams chose quarterbacks with the intention of turning them into multi-threat receivers.

Just like Randle El.

``It was a trend that was bound to happen,'' said Randle El, who took his bag of tricks to Washington in the offseason. ``But I'll tell you what: They'd better be careful doing it, because everybody don't have that capability.''

His point has been made in training camps around the league.

The New York Jets spent a lot of time helping Missouri quarterback Brad Smith get the knack of running a reverse. Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans tried to learn the fine points of catching passes and returning kicks for the St. Louis Rams. Undrafted Marcus Vick was used as a receiver, kick returner and quarterback by the Miami Dolphins.

In receiver-rich Cincinnati, former Texas A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal lined up behind Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to run routes and to follow Randle El's pioneering footsteps.

All of them learned that Randle El wasn't exaggerating.

``He's right,'' McNeal said. ``At this point, I've gotten into the groove of it. But coming from college to here and knowing I was going to switch, that was one of the hardest things ever. I'm used to dropping back, throwing the ball and touching the ball on every play. I've been doing it since high school.''

The NFL has been doing this for awhile. It's not unusual for a run-oriented college quarterback to change positions in the pros, where there's a preference for pocket passers.

``I think he can play quarterback,'' Houshmandzadeh said after the Bengals took McNeal in the sixth round. ``But you know how they do with African-American guys. They want to move them to receiver. It's the truth.''

The latest switches were partly inspired by Randle El's success last season. He threw a 51-yard touchdown pass to Ward during an important November victory over Cleveland, then connected with him again on the same play to help win the Super Bowl.

Randle El also helped the Steelers beat the Bengals earlier in the playoffs by taking a direct snap from center and throwing a lateral to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who then threw a touchdown pass over a flummoxed defense.

Soon, there were outbreaks of Randle El envy.

``He's got a chance to be our Randle El,'' Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, after taking McNeal.

In the Jets' case, they got someone who knew Randle El. Smith met him while playing at Missouri, but never thought he would be following the same path in the NFL. And he never expected it to be so challenging.

During the preseason, Smith scored a touchdown on a 61-yard reverse and played quarterback in the final game. He also learned how to block, something that's off-limits for quarterbacks.

``How they play so low and fast, it's unbelievable to me,'' Smith said. ``Playing quarterback, you just stand up and you see everything in front of you. At this position, you have to play a lot lower, be able to do a lot of different things with your body.''

The Rams have tried to find a niche for Hagans, who was competing for the job of returning kickoffs.

``It's not an overnight process, and it's been hard,'' coach Scott Linehan said recently. ``It's a work in progress. We're just staying patient with that the best we can.''

In Cincinnati, McNeal caught a 28-yard touchdown pass in the closing minutes of a 48-17 win over Green Bay, his first big moment of the preseason. He has also run reverses, giving one of the NFL's top offenses a little more versatility.

``That would be exciting,'' Johnson said. ``That's something I don't think we've done much. Since we've been here, there haven't been many trick plays.''

McNeal would love to pull off the ultimate trick _ throw a TD pass.

``Aw, man, that would be great _ catch one and throw something, too,'' McNeal said. ``I don't think it could get better than that.

``I throw it a little bit before practice. I don't want to lose that feeling.''

Randle El knows the feeling.

``It's not just, 'Throw me in, let me (throw) it a couple of times in practice and be able to do it in the game,' `` Randle El said. ``It takes poise. It takes a lot of concentration. It certainly takes some heart to be able to do that stuff.

``I'm not taking anything away from somebody, but at the same time, it's a tough deal to do. It's a challenge.''