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Saturday, March 2, 2002
 
QB trio tries to break through stereotype
By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the locker room before the East-West all-star game in Palo Alto, Calif., last month, one-time Dallas Cowboys personnel guru Gil Brandt introduced Indiana University guarterback Antwaan Randle El to former President Gerald Ford and afforded the youngster a rousing endorsement.

Antwaan Randle El
Antwaan Randle El is the Division I-A career rushing leader among quarterbacks.
"We'll both be dead, Mr. President, before this happens," Brandt told Ford, "but some day this guy could be the president of this country."

Maybe so, particularly given that Randle El is an articulate young man with undeniable presence and leadership abilities, not to mention a burgeoning interest in politics and human interaction. Whether he can parlay at least some of those estimable qualities into an NFL career, however, remains to be seen.

A four-year starter for the Hoosiers, and one of the all-time total offense leaders in the history of the Big 10, Randle El is among a group of quarterback prospects at the weekend's NFL combine workouts who will attempt to overcome size deficiencies. Along with Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska and Clemson's Woody Dantzler, it is a compelling trio, one that has posted incredible statistics at the college level but lacks the prototype height and weight numbers that NFL scouts covet.

On their collegiate rosters, Crouch is listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds; Randle El at 5-10, 185; and Dantzler at 5-11, 205. But often the official combine measurements come in a little below those in the media guides.

There is no denying all three quarterbacks are football players, but question marks surround all of them, despite their collegiate productivity, and their draft prospects remain dicey. His versatility provides Randle El, who has played wide receiver and returned punts at times, an advantage over the other two, and a few scouts feel he could be selected as high as the fourth round.

"Here's a guy who could be your No. 3 quarterback, your fourth wide receiver, and he can return punts and maybe even kickoffs," said Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo. "You can't afford not to look at him. He's just one of those kids who some teams might allow to fall between the cracks, because he doesn't fit the model (at quarterback). But he's a player, make no mistake."

Randle El demonstrated his diverse skills at the Senior Bowl all-star game last month. He caught the ball effortlessly in passing drills, fielded punts well enough to show he can handle that chore, and showed overall elusiveness. He played on the coverage units and, in general, did everything but man the concession stand.

Like his two peers, Randle El insisted Saturday he can play quarterback at the NFL level, but he will work out here at several positions. Crouch and Dantzler will do the same, but the Heisman winner had to basically talk his way into the quarterback drills. Two weeks ago, the scouts had him scheduled for the running back and safety drills, and he wasn't slated to work at quarterback.

Longtime league personnel director Ken Herock, who is now working with prospects to prepare them for combine interviews, suggested Crouch ask combine organizers to let him throw with the other quarterbacks. Agent Jim Steiner filed the request with the combine officials, and they agreed to let him be part of the quarterback auditions.

"I'll do whatever they ask me to do, anything, just to play in the NFL," Crouch said. "But the fact is, what I do best is play quarterback, right? It's what I know. Everything else is pretty foreign to me. I know how the scouts want all the quarterback (prospects) to be 6-feet-3 and 225 pounds, but there are always exceptions. I like to think I can be one of the exceptions."

Crouch has better pure arm strength than Randle El but is still a bit erratic with his accuracy and needs plenty of work on mechanics. But he is determined to succeed in the NFL and some team figures to choose him in the fifth round or later.

While both Crouch and Randle El have dealt well with questions about their size, Dantzler all but bristles at suggestions his stature could be a problem. Dantzler was not very happy at having to line up at tailback in the Senior Bowl, and the switch was a bit unfair, since he had never played the position previously and appeared uncomfortable.

When someone asked Dantzler if he might consider playing in the CFL, where his quickness might be put to better use, he glared before replying that his goal has been an NFL career, and that would not be altered.

"I've always beaten the odds, no matter the level I was playing, and I think I can do it again," he said. "The people who are doubting me, so be it, because I'll show them."

If he doesn't, maybe Randle El will choose him as his vice presidential candidate.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.