Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Mar 2010

Steelers Re-Sign Ryan Clark, Add Randle El

The Steelers are bringing two players back. Safety Ryan Clark has re-upped with the team, while wideout Antwaan Randle El returns to the team on a three-year deal.

Hard to see where Randle El fits in the team's current lineup; he's not going to play ahead of Mike Wallace, which makes him the fourth wideout, and while he's been a return man in the past, it's hard to see the team giving him the gig over Stefan Logan.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 08 Mar 2010

26 comments, Last at 27 Mar 2010, 4:23am by sports-veronica


by Independent George :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 8:21pm

Wildcat QB!

by Theo :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 8:53pm

He'd be ran out of town faster than Steely McBeam.

by commissionerleaf :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 8:22pm

Randle El is the new QB, now that Roethlisberger has chosen "Registered Sex Offender" over "NFL Quarterback".

by Theo :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 8:50pm

I'm expecting a decline from Ward, as hard as it is to type that. But it has to happen some time and he has surprised me now for 2 seasons.
But with Sweed being meh and with the youngsters being youngsters, I kinda like this. He knows the team.

by Colin (not verified) :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 8:52pm

He was a go-to gadget play guy under Cowher/Whisenhunt; it's not hard to imagine that he'll resume that role as WR4. Now more than ever, defenses will need to account for him as a wildcard, rather than a deep threat. I think we can read this signing as an omen that the Steelers are going to be playing around with some kind of direct-snap offense, and that we'll see a dozen effective flea-flickers over the course of the season.

by Theo :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 8:55pm

He was more than the gadget play guy, he was the #3 receiver and was a part of the weekly game plan. He was a gadget play focus, but he truly was used as a receiver too and did well.

by Colin (not verified) :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 9:12pm

Better way to say what I said: "He was involved in a large proportion of the Steelers' gadget plays, and it seems like they used to run a lot of those." Of course, his participation went well beyond the fringes of the playbook. But he showed up a lot on those fringes!

It's interesting to consider, too, that the WR4 of next year's Steelers is going to be an every-week player, maybe even an every-series player. They've been increasingly willing to go five-wide, and picking up Randle-El might point to even more of that in 2010.

by Theo :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 9:23pm

Yes, they Steelers tried to go pass happy after Maddox appeared to be pretty good, 2002 if I remember well, and but that backfired.
Enter Ben and they've gone from 'Pounce it with Fast Willie and the Bus' to 'Pass it to Holmes and to Heinz when in trouble, remember Miller is your friend and pass it to rookies because they're fast'.
Ben is a kind of his own and needs receivers that understand the game more than just understand the position. Randle El is one of them.

by Justin Zeth :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 9:41pm

Randle El was the #2 receiver on the 2005 World Champions.

That was a long time ago, though, in NFL years. He's 31 now and is there probably to return punts (but not kickoffs), play six or eight downs a game as the WR4 and provide a reasonable backup WR3 in the event of an injury.

Also in the interest of accuracy, Randle El never played under Bruce Arians and played only two seasons with Ben Roethlisberger, for most of which Roethlisberger still had the training wheels on. The Steelers gain approximately nothing from past familiarity; this is purely about adding a decent utility player, to borrow an appropriate term from baseball.

by Jerry :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 12:07am

BA was El's position coach for two years, so there's some familiarity. I assume he'll end up in front of Arnaz Battle on the depth chart, but that remains to be seen.

by The Ninjalectual :: Mon, 03/08/2010 - 9:48pm

Can ARE really return punts? On the Redskins he was less of a punt returner and more of a punt fair-catcher. I suspect that this has more to do with stupid coaching than his abilities, but there is no way to tell except to wait.

by Jerry :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 12:04am

If you look his stats up, you'll find that was a better punt returner when he was a Steeler than when he was a Redskin. Your guess is as good as mine as far as what it means going forward.

by BigWoody (not verified) :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 12:20am

Whatever! I can't wait until A R-E retires and gets in the broadcast booth.

by Theo :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 9:47pm

One more Super Bowl winning TD pass and I'll second this.
Aaahntwan Raaaahndle El!

by C (not verified) :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 9:38am

Randel El isn't as good as Mike Wallace, but how long before Hines Ward is done, and Mike Wallece moves up the depth chart?

The Steelers also brought in former QB Arnez Battle. This could be because they DO want to run wildcat or just because QB's understand the passing game better.

Randel El is a good team guy that I'd want around my team ( that fits the Steelers Mantra). The Redskins vastly overpaid for his servies but I like ARE and like the signing.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 11:46am

Ok folks, the Steelers are not going to be running a direct snap offense. Not gonna happen. They haven't experimented with Dixon, Moore, or Ward. They won't with ARE. If they do in 2010, and someone calls me on it*, I'll make a $25 donation to the non-controversial charity** of your choice. Email me at [this user name] at gmail to call me on it.

They brought in ARE because he's a perfect Steelers player. Reliable, good teammate by all accounts, reasonably priced. I expect him to return punts and be WR4, but a good insurance policy when the injury bug hits. IIRC, ARE really liked his time in Pittsburgh, and only left because he got one of those giant novelty checks.

*This is an informal gentleman's pledge. No formal definitions or terms, just my word that I'll abide by the spirit.
**For example, not political parties, not one actively advancing force or fraud. If you insist on one one I find really repulsive, I'll find an alternative.

by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 2:45pm

Randle El also fits because he's a good run blocker (or at least had the reputation of being such when he was in Pittsburgh--haven't followed him closely through his Redskins days aside from his being the Jerry Rice of Loser League WRs), like almost everyone that plays with Hines Ward seems to become.

The Steelers have been fond of deploying wide receivers that were formerly quarterbacks for years. Hines Ward, for instance.

by Colin (not verified) :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 3:28pm

I don't think anyone suspects the Steelers will be running a Wildcat or anything. But they already do have some RB direct snaps in the playbook - we see at least a handful every season. They've also had Ward take at least one, although I seem to remember him just running off-tackle for a big gain on that play. If they run the same play with Randle El, the defense has a lot more thinking to do before the snap.

I think we'll see at least a half-dozen direct snap plays this year, and that ARE will be involved in at least a couple of them. I can also see him lining up as a sort of H-back/protector and making defenses account for the possibility of him getting the ball right away. It will be fun to see how this plays out.

by Jerry :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 8:33pm

In El's last Steeler stint, they'd bring him out in the huddle at the beginning of drives while the QB was talking to the coaches on the sideline. Once or twice a game, they'd leave him in to take the snap, usually to run. Even though Whisenhunt is gone, I won't be surprised to see this again.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 11:54am

The re-signing of Clark is a relief. They clearly tossed him in the deep end to see what the market would bear, knowing he probably wanted to return if they gave him a matching offer. Reportedly, they didn't even make an offer until he was a FA.

This is good news for the organization, because now the Steelers could use a interior OL, DB of any sort not Strong, any DL, or any LB in the first round, but they don't have to go after anyone in particular. I was afraid they were banking on a first round safety.

by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 2:49pm

The Steelers can and should draft the best non-offensive-skill-position player available in every round. Their areas of strength are: QB, WR and OLB. Their areas of serious weakness and significant need for new talent are: OC, OG, OT, DE, DT, ILB, and CB.

RB and safety are relatively unimportant positions that they're reasonably stocked at. I wouldn't be outraged if they tabbed a safety they really like in the 4th or 5th round. Ryan Clark's an undersized linebacker who can't cover and batters himself unconscious six times a year; Troy Polamalu isn't going to get any healthier as he gets older.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 3:13pm

They are stocked at safety, that wasn't true two days ago, and no one behind the starters really put french fries on my sandwich.

They have no depth at OLB, unless you consider moving Timmons out, then they would have no depth at ILB. Based on scheme, they need at least 6 LB's on the squad who can be productive, and only have five. Harrison and Farrior's ages are also important factors.

I disagree with adding OT to that list. Compared to other team needs, that's not nearly as important.

The first round pick is of particular interest for the Steelers, because under Colbert they get a stud every year. Since he took over in 2000 or 2001, you can count his first round busts on one finger. Most of the rest have gone to the pro bowl, won a superbolw MVP, or at the very worst are very solid players in their position (excluding Ziggy, who was a rookie and looked pretty ok anyway).

That said, I'd love to see a ball hawk DB taken in the first round. The D was great two year ago in no small part due to the fact that there was a huge spike in interceptions (induced by a much improved pass rush).

by Justin Zeth :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 6:29pm

A ball hawk DB is completely antithetical to the Steelers' scheme, which calls for the corners to play eight yards off the receivers, let them catch the ball and then tackle them if the QB can get it to them, and depends on the pass rush to force incompletions and turnovers.

'If they can pick up the rush they can have all the 10-15 yard completions their greedy hearts desire, but never give up the big play' has always been their philosophy.

Even Polamalu, while something of a ball hawk of course, is more fundamentally a hyper-aggressive safety/undersized linebacker, which is the kind of safety the Steelers have always liked. Ryan Clark is the same player as Polamalu, only significantly less athletically talented. The Steelers are not too concerned about having DBs that can cover. They prefer DBs that can tackle. I used to rail against this scheme, before the reality hit me that it works as long as the players are talented enough.

by drobviousso :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 7:38pm

You're generally right about this. I've noticed that Ike Taylor seems to be playing more like a safety over a WR than what most CB's do. Last year was a disaster this year because neither Gay nor Carter could stop the big play reliably.

However, based on some public grumbling from both Lebeau and Tomlin in the last couple of months, I think they are getting a little grumpy about all the missed interceptions. I think there's also more concern about stopping dink and dunk attacks like the Patriot have than longer developing routes like what Cincy or Pitt themselves run, but that's just pure speculation.

by Theo :: Tue, 03/09/2010 - 10:03pm

It's dangerous in the NFL, for some teams to allow them to make completions for 8 yards.
Where they used to complete those 70% of the times now they complete them 80 to 90%. They miss the longer ones, but they will make every 5 yard chance you give them.
The Jets are even more aggressive. They say "I'll give you 1.8 seconds to complete 3 five yarders in a row. Miss one and you punt"