Mobility underrated in NFL players

Everyone in the NFL covets a mobile quarterback – but no one seems to covet two of the most mobile quarterbacks the college game has ever produced.

Eric Crouch of Nebraska and Antwaan Randle El of Indiana will get the chance to continue their football careers as professionals. But Crouch, the Heisman Trophy winner, has been projected by the NFL as a running back, and Randle El, the Big Ten’s MVP, projects as a wide receiver.

Mobility is an asset the NFL craves in its quarterbacks. But the pros want their quarterbacks to throw first, run second. It’s always been the other way around. From what I’ve done at Nebraska and the ability that I have, it’s easy for them to say, `running back,'” Crouch said. “That doesn’t bother me at all. But I feel I do have an NFL arm.”

Randle has a more accomplished arm. He also was a four-year starter, finishing as Indiana’s all-time leading passer and second-leading rusher. His 11,364 yards in total offense ranks second in Big Ten history to former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees.

Neither Crouch nor Randle El fits the NFL prototype – Crouch at 5-11½, 195 pounds and Randle El at 5-9½, 191 pounds.

“I don’t think they’ll ever start and complete a game in the NFL (at quarterback),” Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly said.

Doug Flutie won a Heisman Trophy at Boston College but, at 5-9, he had to spend eight years performing at the highest level in Canada before the NFL would take him seriously as a quarterback.

Rex Kern, Jack Mildren and Nolan Cromwell were accomplished NCAA option quarterbacks in the 1970s who moved to defense in the NFL and became starters at safety. At least the NFL is willing to let Crouch and Randle El stay on offense.

“They’re versatile guys, very athletic and excellent competitors,” Buffalo Bills general manager Tom Donahoe said. “We feel they’re both going to play in the league. But you’d better have a plan if you’re going to take a guy like that.”

The plan for Randle El is to use him as a slot receiver and let him return kicks. He’s a magician in the open field. He had two 200-yard rushing games in his career and 14 other 100-yard games.

“I do want to play quarterback,” Randle El said, “but I’m not going to limit myself to one position. I’ll return punts and play receiver if different teams need those guys.”

Randle El threw for 290 yards and four touchdowns against Michigan, 263 yards and two scores against Minnesota and 246 yards and three scores against Northwestern.

In his first college start, against Western Michigan in 1998, he completed 22 of 29 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns.

So much for the perception that short quarterbacks can’t see down the field.

“That’s a bad perception,” Randle El said. “Playing quarterback is all about poise in the pocket, completing passes, putting passes right on the money.”

Quarterbacking in the NFL is all about performing under pressure. Crouch advises NFL teams to watch the tape of his 2000 Colorado game before judging him as a quarterback.

Crouch drove the Cornhuskers 45 yards in 47 seconds with no timeouts left, completing four of five passes, to set up the winning field goal as time expired.

“A lot of people get the perception that at Nebraska, it’s impossible for a quarterback,” said Crouch, who won the 2001 Davey O’Brien Award as college football’s top quarterback.

“But I don’t see that. I don’t feel that. I worked with a lot of NFL guys over the last couple of months, and they all feel I can play quarterback in the NFL.”

Still, NFL scouts who watch that Colorado tape will see a quarterback who ran for almost as many yards (125) as he threw that day (139). They’ll see a quarterback who ran for three touchdowns that day and passed for none.

They will see a running back _ someone who also will get the chance to return kicks and catch a few passes in the pros.

When the NFL studies players under 6-0, they watch the legs, not the arms.

“I know I can play quarterback in this league,” Randle El said. “But somebody’s going to have to take a chance on me, somebody who really believes in me.”