Daily Archives: July 7, 2012

Former Steelers WR Antwaan Randle El Set to Announce Retirement

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The Times of Northwest Indiana is reporting former Steelers WR and member of the Steelers Super Bowl XL championship team Antwaan Randle El is expected to announce his retirement from the NFL at his skills training academy July 14.

Randle El, best known in Pittsburgh for his 43-yard touchdown pass to WR Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL, was a second round draft pick by the Steelers in 2002. He played there through the 2005 season, which culminated in a championship, and left via free agency for Washington.

After playing four seasons with the Redskins, Randle El came back to Pittsburgh, where he played the 2010 season, which also resulted in an appearance in the Super Bowl. Green Bay defeated the Steelers 31-26, but Randle El had two catches for 50 yards, including a big 37-yard gainer in the second quarter.

Randle El was an excellent kick returner as well, running back six combined punts and kickoffs for touchdowns in his nine year career.

He won't go down in history as being the best player ever to wear No. 82, but Randle El always provided that hint of excitement - as well as danger - on the field. His pass to Ward couldn't have come at a better time, and couldn't epitomize his career any better. It may be the only play he makes all game, but it's one you'll remember.

We wish him health, happiness and safety in his retirement.




Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Kiper: David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey Could Become the Best Guard/Center Combo in the NFL


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ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper did a summer audit of the AFC North, and had some high praise for the future of the Steelers offensive line.

The selection of RG David DeCastro in this spring's draft gives the team a high-level guard in terms of athleticism, power and intelligence. Playing him next to Pro Bowl C Maurkice Pouncey, in Kiper's eyes, could give the Steelers the best combination of the two positions in the NFL.

That's high praise, and obviously, something every team would want, given the choice.

Injuries have been the main concern around Pouncey. He looked strong at times last year, but at other times, looked like he was off a step or two. After breaking his ankle in the AFC Championship game at the end of the 2010 season, and missing the Super Bowl, it was clear the level of play along the Steelers interior offensive line was down.

DeCastro somehow fell to No. 24, where the Steelers probably beat the commissioner to the podium to submit their pick.

The versatility the two will bring - the ability to pull to either direction - gives the Steelers loads of options in the running game. Add in the move of Willie Colon from right tackle to left guard, you're looking at the interior offensive line going from one of the worst in the NFL to one of the best in one offseason.

Kiper also mentioned the Steelers' big question this season surrounding their younger players.

My question is whether some of the younger personnel [on defense] can make that next step and become dynamic. Lawrence Timmons is already exceptional, but it's time for guys such as Cameron Heyward, Jason Worilds and Steve McLendon to become names.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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No progress between Steelers, Wallace

To no surprise, the Steelers and receiver Mike Wallace remain at impasse. Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Xchange reports that “there has been no progress, and, in fact, very little negotiation” between the team and the player, who is a restricted free agent. There’s no reason for any progress to be made, because there’s no…

Source: ProFootballTalk » Pittsburgh Steelers


Wallace Has Still Not Inked His Tender; No Progress Being Made

Mike Wallace earlier this offseason received the team’s restricted free-agent tender for $ 2.7 million dollars. Wallace has not signed the tender nor has he attended any of the team’s offseason practices.

With only about three weeks until the opening of camp, there has been no progress, and, in fact, very little negotiation, toward a resolution of Wallace’s contract situation by the Steelers according to Len Pasquarelli of he Sports Xchange.

It’s a shame that this thing isn’t done already. Wallace is going to have to come in at some point, as there’s no way he will miss the season.

He is going to come in unhappy, but hopefully for the sake of the team and himself, he will play motivated. Bottom line, this thing is a mess, and the Steelers and Wallace have to at some point have to get this thing signed or a new deal done.

Source: Steelers Gab

Battle of the (AFC North) Wide Receivers—How Do They Compare?

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I began this series with a comparison of the quarterbacks in the AFC North. Since the performance of the quarterback is going to depend to a greater or lesser extent on the competence of his receiving corps, it makes sense to continue my series with the wideouts. Since the number of players to consider is a great deal larger, I’m going to look at the presumed #1 and #2 receivers, and just mention the depth at the position. If there is any depth (*cough, cough* Cleveland.) And I’m aware the terms #1 and #2 receiver aren’t terribly meaningful, but for the purposes of this post they are a useful shorthand for the starting wide receivers.

Since this is a Steelers blog I’ll begin with our guys. A year ago it was a definite question as to whether Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders would snag the spot in the lineup. This year Brown has a jersey in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his record-breaking 1000+ yards as both a receiver and returner, while Sanders missed numerous games due to recurring problems with his feet and knees. Fortunately the injury situation looks better for Sanders, and he should be a real contributor this season, particularly in the slot where he is especially valuable for his blocking. But for the purposes of this post he is "depth," as is Jerricho Cotchery and whoever else makes it through camp. The money is on Toney Clemons at this point, but he has some competition.

The other receiver is Mike Wallace. Admittedly he hasn’t signed his tender yet, and it is possible he will hold out through training camp and even partway into the season. But that isn’t particularly likely, mainly because he surely understands he’s only hurting himself at this point. One hopes his agent understands this as well.

Both Brown and Wallace are young, and both have put up fairly remarkable numbers in their early years. In fact, few players ever in the NFL have matched Wallace’s numbers for his first three seasons. And Brown has proven his worth over and over. Nobody, at least on the receiving corps, works as hard as he does, and he works to very good effect.

There has been a fair amount of argument over whether Brown would look as good without Wallace to pull double teams from the opponent. This is a legitimate concern, but it shouldn’t matter for the coming season, unless Wallace gets injured, or decides to sulk over the contract situation. Neither are particularly likely—Wallace has been extraordinarily durable, never even appearing on the injury list as I recall, much less missing a game. And I think he is ultimately too sensible to destroy his prospects of a big contract, either from the Steelers or another team, by playing poorly and seeing his numbers tank next season.

And speaking of numbers, here is a comparison between Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. This has been discussed over and over, but frequently with either unsubstantiated assertions such as "Brown has better hands" or with cherry-picked stats. (In case you’re wondering, the Drop Rates for the AFC North receivers, including Brown and Wallace, will appear later in this article.) Here are some of the relevant numbers from their careers. (I may, of course, also be cherry-picking, but I picked the stats allowing for easy comparison on a chart. The full range of stats may be found on the table which follows.) The key is, GP = Games Played, Rec = Receptions, RT = Returning, FD = First Down and ATT = Attempts.

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I apologize for the size—the bigger files get automatically sized down, and I can't alter it.

You can all draw your own conclusions from what you see, assuming you can see it at all, but a few things were really interesting to me. First was how close Brown got in 2011 to matching Wallace’s average yards per reception. Second was his number of first downs in 2011, which beat Wallace’s number in any of his three seasons. But note Wallace is still the touchdown king, at least in Pittsburgh. What it mainly establishes is what a double-edged weapon they are together. As I noted above, there is no reason to think this will be different in 2012, especially with quality depth in Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. But let’s move on to the rest of the AFC North.

Next up, Cleveland, since I dissed their receiving corps in my previous post about quarterbacks before I really looked at the numbers. It turns out I was at least partially correct to do so, at least with the information we have at this point. First, the positives.

Greg Little finished the 2011 season leading the Browns in catches and receiving yards. He will be their #1 receiver in 2012, barring, of course, injury or other unforeseen circumstances. The phrase "leading the Browns in catches and receiving yards" may seem like damning with faint praise, but in fact Little was the No. 2 rookie wide receiver in the NFL in catches, behind A. J. Green. He was also No. 4 in yards, behind Green, Torrey Smith of the Ravens, and Julio Jones. As a side note, this is quite an impressive showing for the AFC North.

So what was bad? Well, the Browns led the league last year with dropped passes, missing 43 catches. Which is a lot. Since this was an issue, I decided to check out the rate of dropped passes last season for the receivers presumed to be the starters in the AFC North in 2012. Pro Football Focus has a calculation, the Drop Rate, based upon what they view as catchable balls. The lower the rate the better. (The number on the chart is a percentage.)

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When we look at the chart, we can indeed see Little missed a great many balls, approaching one in every five catchable balls thrown to him. Mohamed Massaquoi was much better, but still missed more than 10% of catchable balls. According to Jamison Hensley, ESPN’s AFC North beat writer, wrote this several weeks ago:

I went to the Cleveland Browns' minicamp this week with an open mind about their wide receivers. I left shaking my head.

By my count, there were six dropped passes in a 90-minute practice Wednesday. If this carries into the season, the passing attack will struggle again and it wouldn't matter whether the quarterback is Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy or Aaron Rodgers.

While this was disputed by several commenters, Hensley’s words are not particularly encouraging for those hoping Brandon Weeden will have a good season.

Please note as you look at the chart—Mike Wallace has by far the lowest rate of dropped catchable balls in the AFC North. (For those of you who are wondering why there is no second receiver for the Bengals, keep reading.) In fact, out of 45 ranked receivers Wallace ranked No. 8. Little ranked No. 45.

To return to the Browns, their depth doesn’t, at this point, appear to provide a clear challenge Massaquoi for the #2 position. In this draft the Browns didn’t address the WR issue until they chose Travis Benjamin in round four. This doesn’t mean Benjamin or Jordan Norwood or Owen Spencer can’t step up and overperform, as did 2010 sixth-round pick Antonio Brown or, for that matter, 2009 third-round pick Mike Wallace, but there is little indication at this point the Brown’s receiving corps will be a major strength of the team. Hensley believes they remain a weakness.

So how about those Bengals? Why do they only have one wide receiver? Well, unlike the situation for every other AFC North team, I could not find substantial agreement about who the #2 receiver is on the Bengals’ depth chart for 2012. Last year the second wideout was of course Jerome Simpson, and he left in free agency this off-season. The name cropping up the most frequently to fill the void is Armon Binns. This surprised me, as the Bengals drafted Mohamed Sanu in the second round. But for whatever reason he only appears to be in the mix, along with other names such as Marvin Jones.

Binns was signed by Jacksonville as an undrafted free agent last spring. He was cut and picked up by the Bengals in September. They stowed him on their practice squad for 2011, and he never played in a game. So even if I went with Binns as the #2 receiver I wouldn’t have any stats to put up for him. However, it looks as if the Bengals have several options for a strong competition for the second spot. Sanu is said to be a very good possession receiver who can run any type of route and with excellent hands. Marvin Jones is expected to split time at the various receiving spots. Jordan Shipley is a promising slot receiver.

As far as A.J. Green goes, there isn’t much to say. Green was a top-10 receiver in the NFL last season, and there is no reason to believe he is going to regress this season.

Finally, the Ravens. Last season Torrey Smith emerged as one of the most exciting rookie receivers in the league, or one of the most annoying if you were a Steelers fan watching the second Steelers-Ravens game. Like A. J. Green, he only promises to get better this season. The second receiver, Anquan Boldin, was an amazing player early in his career, but he is not the player he was in 2003. Boldin is still a very solid receiver to all appearances, though, and in combination with the omni-talented Ray Rice and a couple of good tight ends gives Joe Flacco plenty of good options to throw to. (However, I shouldn’t be taking the backs and tight ends into consideration at this point, as the picture for all the teams may well change when we look at those positions.)

So how do we compare the various receiving corps? The lack of a clear #2 in Cincinnati makes it a bit more difficult to do, but let’s take a look at some more numbers and see where they take us. First, here is a chart using the same stats I used to compare Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. (All numbers are for 2011.)

Afc_north_wr_2011_medium

I’ll let you all draw your own conclusions.

Next, let’s look at what Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, and Football Outsiders have to say about these players. First up, Pro Football Reference’s "Average Value" for 2011:

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Next, Pro Football Focus’s Wide Receiver Rating:

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PFF's top-ranked receiver for 2011 was Jordy Nelson, who blew everyone else out of the water with a 150.2 score. (The next closest was Marques Colston with 132.4.) The highest AFC North receivers were Torrey Smith (No. 9) at 108.6 and Mike Wallace (No. 10) at 108.0.

Finally, the Football Outsider ranking of receivers for 2011. Unlike the other two, lower is better in this ranking, with the No. 1 receiver for 2011, league-wide, being Calvin Johnson.

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Well, the best receiver in the AFC North last season was Mike Wallace, by almost any measure. That doesn’t come as breaking news, of course, except to those of the BTSC faithful who have busily been trying to persuade themselves we don’t really need Wallace. (This may, of course, be true, but shouldn’t downplay what he has done for the Steelers thus far.) A. J. Green is in hot competition with Antonio Brown for the #2 spot. Mohamed Massaquoi is the undisputed holder of last place. Greg Little is better than his drop rate would indicate, and if he can clean this up (or buy himself a vat of pine tar) he will be a force to be reckoned with this season.

So now for my (usual disclaimer about homerism) ranking of the AFC North, combining the information about the quarterbacks and receiving corps:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers

2. Baltimore Ravens

2. Cincinnati Bengals

4. Cleveland Browns

At this point I believe slot No. 1 and No. 4 are fairly obvious. I have the Ravens and the Bengals tied because while the Bengals have, I believe, the better quarterback as well as an excellent No. 1 receiver, the question mark at the No. 2 receiving slot makes me unwilling to put them in front.

So far things don’t look very rosy for the Browns, but that may change when we look at Running Backs in my next post. Stay tuned!



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain


Weekend Check Down: The Top Stories of the Week


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Ladies and gentlemen, our journey through football Hell continues. Weeks ago I likened trying to provide interesting content at this time of the year to trying to serve a banquet with the key ingredients being a can of sardines and some crackers. Well, we're fresh out of sardines.

This being a holiday week we sort of hit bottom on the news front. The main question going forward in these final weeks before camp is whether there will be a bounce back up, or if we start digging toward new depths.

If you are into Pittsburgh sports generally it hasn't been a bad week at all. Sidney Crosby re-upped with the Pens and will be around when your first grader goes off to college. They have also been quite busy in the free agent market. Last I checked the Pirates were eight games above .500 for the first time since Honus Wagner played (or so it seems).

True story: I checked out the Post-Gazette website the other day and found a freshly published piece on Steelers notes that got me fairly excited, until I started reading. The headline was about the unveiling of the new uniforms by Nike. Wait a minute. Are they so bored at league headquarters that they're unveiling the uniforms again? Then I checked out the date of the piece; April 4th. Someone messed up and reposted an old article; that's what it has come to. Even the soft human interest stories have dried up.

But in spite of my whining there is news of a football nature and most of it rather interesting, at least to me.

Jonathan Dwyer

The Trib did a profile of the third year running back highlighting his continuing struggles with his conditioning and his weight that has cost him both in his position in the 2010 draft and his status and role on the team. Dwyer is currently in Florida working out at a performance enhancement facility and promises to report to camp in the best shape in his life.

The light has apparently flickered on for Dwyer. For his sake (and ours as fans) I certainly hope so. There seems to be no question that he possesses the necessary talent to have a very successful career in this league and be an asset to the Steelers. But talent absent discipline is useless at this level. More important is that he has an opportunity- and a danger- this season that is unlikely to present itself again. With Mendenhall likely to be out for a portion of the season Isaac Redman and the team need Dwyer to step up in the supporting role of the number two back. If he is unable to either recognize or respond to the situation then you have to wonder what value his presence has for the team regardless of his potential. And there are three very talented backs, Clay, Batch and Rainey, nipping at his heels and more than happy to provide the team with the rationale to kick him to the curb.

2012 Steelers Outlook

Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated did a piece on the Steelers 2012 prospects as part of a series of off season profiles. The piece was a fair and (from an outsider's perspective) understandable analysis of the issues facing the team in a transitional year. Three areas were identified as areas of concern: leadership, with the loss of some many key veterans such as Hines Ward and James Farrior; the situation at running back and the necessity of having to integrate so many rookies into important roles.

From the outsider's point of view Mendenhall's absence would appear to be a cause for greater concern than for those who have watched the progress of the remaining backs more closely. There is no denying the fact that, in spite of some impressive performances in spot duty, the resumes for Redman and our other backs is thin in terms of consistent game experience. So the questions that have been raised are valid. Also the concerns about leadership are reasonable, especially if one is not closely acquainted with the Steelers team culture. The most on point issue is that concerning the rookies. Even if the projections of their potential are on target, the likelihood that, like Maurkice Pouncey, they will immediately step in and provide peak performance would have to be viewed as a bit fanciful. How those growing pains play out will have a lot to say about how far the team goes this year.

These things being said, the outlook was largely an optimistic one, with the projection being that Pittsburgh had the likely potential of being in the thick of the playoff race. A caution was sounded that if there was a time that a step back would occur, this season would be it.

Steelers Draft Analysis

Over at ESPN Jamison Hensley provided an analysis of the Steelers 2009 draft. The grade given was a B-, with the chief success being 3rd round pick Mike Wallace and the chief failure being 3rd round lineman Kraig Urbik. The question was raised, given his subsequent success with Buffalo, if the Steelers were premature in cutting ties with Urbik. If the topic were brought up prior to this year's draft it might a focal point of some intense and perhaps bitter discussion. Today it's just an interesting what if.

The role of travel as it effects competitiveness

I've become a fan of the Grantland.com website. I became aware of them earlier this year as the concussion issue was just beginning to gain some serious traction in discussions concerning the short and long term future of the NFL. The analysis that they published seemed to have more depth and nuance than other sites. Bill Barnwell did a piece this week on the impact of long distance travel upon team competitiveness with a particular emphasis on its impact on the west coast teams.

There has been some discussion over the last week linking the Steelers with the Seattle Seahawks, and coincidentally, Barnwell cites a comparison between the '08 Steelers and Seahawks to make many of the points in his analysis.

I remember when following the Pirates when I was a kid much was made of the difficulty of the road trips to the west coast. The fact that the Giants and Dodgers were really good at that time certainly had something to do with their struggles; but it was also clear that the challenges of cross country travel alone also had an impact.

Given the scheduling structure of the NFL, traveling west to east presents special challenges. While a 1pm start in Seattle or San Diego simply amounts to the equivalent to a 4pm start for the body clocks of eastern teams, a 1pm start in New York for a west coast team translates to 10am with game preparation commencing around 6am for their body clocks. Data is presented that demonstrates that this is not just perception. Nor is east coast travel the only problem facing the western teams.

The geographical and the structural realities of the NFL also present difficulties even within the divisions of these teams. Both the AFC and NFC West have teams in three time zones (Pacific, Mountain and Central). Travel for divisional games involves thousands of miles and many hours of flight time. By contrast the Steelers and the Eagles can and do travel to some of their divisional opponents using either buses or trains in two hours or less. When they fly for divisional games the Steelers will be in the air for an hour or less one way (None of their divisional opponents are more than 300 miles away). So, if the team has a 1pm game at Cincinnati they can expect to be back in their homes for dinner and the night game. The situation for NFC North opponents can be even chummier.

Bounty Gate

Goodell rejected the appeals of players Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita who have been suspended in the Bounty gate situation. The NFLPA has filed suit on behalf of the players in response. And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Sorry for being a little flip here, but this is clearly going to drag on for quite some time and if you want to know all the details you can get it from a variety of sources. There isn't much in way of competing stories at this time.

Drew Brees

The Saints remain in the news as Drew Brees won his arbitration dispute over his franchise tag designation. This provides the New Orleans quarterback with valuable leverage in his contract negotiations.

Sean Payton

And continuing the Saints coverage on a sad note, the head coach and his wife have commenced divorce proceedings in Texas.

Eagles owner Jeff Lurie and his wife are also filing for divorce as well.

Ben Davidson

Speaking of sad news, 1960s era defensive lineman for the Oakland Raiders and television pitchman Ben Davidson passed away this week at the age of 72. Davidson was considered one of the faces of that team.

Kiante Tripp

Concluding our bad news/sad news segment, the Browns reserve defensive lineman was arrested in Atlanta for burglary. The prediction here is that this incident will not materially affect Cleveland's effort to fulfill their destiny this year (whatever that may be).



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Football Summer School: Suggestions for Reading Material on the Game We Love


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A good Friday evening talker, I'd love to read what people would have to say on the subject. As for me, I would suggest When Pride Still Mattered, a biography on Vince Lombardi written by David Maraniss. I've found football's purest spirit is found in the leaders of the men who played the game. Bill Walsh is a legend, and David Harris' 'The Gen­ius: How Bill Walsh Reinvented Football and Created an NFL Dynasty' is an excellent read. I forget who writes it, but 'Parcells: A Biography' is awesome because, well, it's about Bill Parcells.

I personally find the mentality of Lawrence Taylor to be one of the most fascinating pop psychology studies the world has ever seen, and any of his autobiographies is both eye-opening and shocking. If you really want to get into nuts and bolts, Steve Belichick's book on football scouting is very interesting. It's extremely dry and even the most die-hard fans will get bored at times, but it's really fun to read what he's writing and find the futures of lots of things between the lines. A true visionary. I've ranted about Paper Lion by George Plimpton before too.

Seeing as we all seem to be bored I thought I would let everyone in on a little project of mine.
I’ve been a fan of the NFL since I was knee high to a grasshopper, but I have never played anything more than backyard ball. Over protective parents, the Canadian fascination with hockey, and living in small town precluded any opportunity to even play in high school. As a result there are a few gaps in my football knowledge.
So during the football purgatory that is the spring and summer I have decided to become a better student of the great American game (in my book that’s football not baseball).
I recently finished Maryrose’s excellent "From Black to Gold" and have become even more of a Steelers fan. On the more technical side I have just picked up Jaworski’s The Games that Changed the Game. Can any of you recommend any high quality books or documentaries about the Steelers or the evolution of the game which we all love so much? There is a lot of dreck out there and I could use the help figuring out what is really worth my time.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Antwaan Randle El set to retire July 14


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Antwaan Randle El signing with the Redskins in 2006 (Credit: Gerald Herbert, Associated Press)
The last time anyone heard the name Antwaan Randle El, was 2011 as he was trying out for the Detroit Lions. The Lions decided not to sign the veteran receiver to the team and apparently, other NFL teams are currently not interested as well.
Randle El’s brother Curtis Randle El told the Times of Northwest Indiana that Antwaan will announce his retirement on July 14 at Thornton High School in Harvey, Illinois, where he was a three-sport star.
After a good career as a run-first, pass-second quarterback at Indiana (as well as spending some time playing for Bob Knight’s basketball team and the Hoosiers’ baseball team), Randle El was a second-round draft pick of the Steelers in 2002. He played wide receiver for four years for the Steelers and then played four years for the Redskins before playing one final season in Pittsburgh in 2010.
Randle El’s career stats consist of 370 catches for 4,467 yards and 15 touchdowns, plus 79 carries for 438 yards. In limited action as a passer on trick plays, Randle El made the most of his experience as a quarterback, completing 22 of 27 passes for 323 yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating of 156.1 is the highest in NFL history for players with at least 20 passes, and he may be best remembered for a touchdown pass he threw to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL.
The post Antwaan Randle El set to retire July 14 appeared first on DOWN & DISTANCE.

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