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JUDGE: Passing on Randle El could be bad

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Clark Judge

 
   
 

INDIANAPOLIS

Indiana¿s Antwaan Randle El may be the best athlete at this year¿s NFL scouting combine, and bully for him. At 5-feet-10, 194 pounds, he¿s not exactly what you¿d call the ideal size for a pro quarterback. But then it¿s not quarterback he¿ll play. It¿s wide receiver. It¿s punt returner. It¿s kickoff returner. Heck, it¿s anywhere he can fit in, and -- pardon the expression -- never sell him short. Randle El is set on making the NFL any way he can, and you better believe. This is a guy who played on the varsity football, baseball and basketball teams at Indiana, and season tickets to Expos¿ games to anyone who can name the last NFL prospect to play that trifecta. ¿I don¿t know if we ever played against a better athlete,¿ said Penn State coach Joe Paterno. And that is Randle El¿s salvation. He¿s really not big enough to play quarterback, and he doesn¿t have the arm scouts look for. He¿s not really big enough or fast enough to rank as a front-line receiver, either. And while he could pull a Scott Frost and try it at defensive back, he has no experience there. But that¿s the beauty of Randle El. He doesn¿t fit anywhere, yet he could fit everywhere. I don¿t care if he doesn¿t measure up to NFL standards; he¿s a player with the enthusiasm, the motivation and the abilities coaches die for. Which is why you can look for him to appear in your neighborhood next season. ¿He has what I call ¿IT¿, ¿ said Dwight Adams, Buffalo¿s vice president in charge of player personnel. ¿I don¿t know what that ¿IT¿ is, but the minute you see him you know he has the ability to play. I¿m telling you, that guy is some athlete.¿ Others at this weekend¿s NFL scouting combine fell in line after Randle El worked out with the quarterbacks, then turned around and joined the wide receivers. He ran a 4.41-second 40, showed sure hands and wasn¿t all that bad with his routes. And we should be surprised? Please. Randle El played almost exclusively at wide receiver in last year¿s spring practice, then took turns at quarterback, wide receiver, punter and punt returner in the season opener against N.C. State. When coaches came to their senses, they returned him to quarterback. But the point was made. Randle El plays where he¿s needed, and right now I think that¿s the NFL. ¿I¿d like to play quarterback,¿ he said, ¿and I know I can in this league. They (NFL clubs) don¿t say, ¿No, you can¿t,¿ but it¿s to the point where they won¿t take a chance.¿ That¿s not unprecedented. University of Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart was in the same position not so long ago and he led the Steelers to the AFC championship game last season. Heisman Trophy winner and Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch is in that position today, and this weekend he worked out with the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Like Randle El, he thinks there should be a place he can play -- and he¿s right. ¿I know people say I¿m too short to play,¿ said Randle El, ¿but it¿s a bad perception. You¿ve just got to take the punches and go with them. I¿m not going to sit here and say, ¿I just want to play quarterback.¿ I do want to play it. But I¿m not going to isolate myself to one position when I can be a punt returner, receiver or whatever these teams need.¿ I like that. NFL coaches should, too. Randle El is poised and confident, introducing himself to Jon Gruden -- then in the middle of an informal news conference -- once he was finished answering reporters¿ questions. The confidence helps. But it¿s the versatility and the productivity that matter. And that¿s the way it should be. Jerry Rice was supposed to be too slow to be a high draft pick, but the 49ers put their faith in his production, not a stopwatch. Randle El was the only Division 1-A player to gain over 2,500 yards in four consecutive seasons and he was the only Division 1-A player to pass for over 6,000 yards and rush for 3,000. I think I¿d put my faith in that. He was a first-team All Big-Ten quarterback, finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting, played outfield on the 2000 Indiana baseball team and guard on the 1998-99 Hoosier basketball squad. I think I¿d trust that, too. ¿The guy impressed me,¿ said Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy. ¿He looks like someone who can be used as a kick returner while he learns the wide receiver position.¿ That will do. Randle El said he¿d settle in at cornerback if that¿s what it took to play in the NFL. All he wants is a chance. He should get one, and not because he¿s a good story waiting to happen but because he¿s a good player. ¿I¿m a playmaker,¿ he said. ¿Put the ball in my hands, and I¿ll make plays.¿ E-mail tag: Clark Judge can be reached at his e-mail address: cjudge@foxsports.com.

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