DT Dre Moore, a fourth-round pick in the 2008 draft, has caught Head Coach Raheem Morris's eye this spring
Three weeks ago, more than a few NFL analysts believed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would use their first-round draft pick on a defensive lineman. And, to be fair to those prognosticators, the Buccaneers could not have denied they were seeking more quality depth for the D-Line, if for no other reason than simply as a matter of numbers. The depth chart had talent, but was a little light in bodies.
On draft weekend, however, the Buccaneers made the bolder move, corralling a franchise quarterback for the future – and perhaps the very near future – in Kansas State prototype Josh Freeman. Then the defensive line was addressed, with the team believing it got a very functional and promising tandem in third-round tackle Roy Miller and fourth-round defensive end Kyle Moore.
Miller and Moore were on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place this past weekend, and the coaching staff was encouraged by what it saw. But there may be even better news. In a way, the Buccaneers could head into their 2009 training camp with three new pieces for their defensive line rotation, all courtesy of the draft's fertile middle rounds.
A little over a year ago, Tampa Bay used its fourth-round pick on Maryland defensive tackle Dre Moore, who was sizeable (6-4, 305) and talented, but not quite in NFL football shape. The team found that out in last year's spring workouts, and Moore never quite caught up on the path towards a regular-season roster spot. He was released on the final round of roster cuts as the team pared down to its 53-man crew.
That was far from the end for Moore, however. The team still recognized his talent, and signed him to the practice squad, where he would remain for the entire season. As a new year dawned, the Bucs hoped that Moore would make a significant leap in his second NFL offseason and perhaps deliver on that talent they had seen on draft weekend 2008.
If last week's mini-camp was any indication, that hope could very well be realized. Since the mini-camp was open to rookies and first-year players, Moore was eligible to participate. Even factoring in that many of the camp's other 50-odd participants were rookies seeing their first NFL action, Moore's performance during the three days of camp were eye-opening.
On Saturday, Head Coach Raheem Morris came off the practice field specifically prepared to laud the young lineman.
"I was going to talk about Dre Moore in a positive light today," said Morris. "I'm starting to see flashes in Dre Moore. I'm starting to see things that I like. I'm starting to want to count on him. I'm not saying I count on him yet, but I want to count on him.
"I know this is the rookies and it's kind of his second go-around in this deal, but he's starting to get a feel for it. I'm really feeling good about him. I'm hoping to tell you next time I talk to you in OTA days that I'm starting to count on him. But right now I'm wanting to, and that's a positive thing."
The turnaround for Moore certainly began on the practice field last fall, and in the weight room, where he has worked diligently to put last spring's conditioning issues behind him. It was given a boost in January, when the Buccaneers tabbed Morris as the team's new head coach and Morris then hired former Miami Dolphins guru Jim Bates to be his defensive coordinator. Bates' system operates best with large, strong defensive tackles who can hold the point, and Moore may be a better fit for that scheme than for the one the Bucs had operated under for the previous dozen years.
Morris is clearly thrilled by the possibility, and indeed Tampa Bay's defensive line would be more stout overall if Moore – and Miller and Kyle Moore – could make a significant impact. None of the three have proven that yet, of course, but at least they are on the right spot on the learning curve, and that's especially true for Dre Moore. There are no real obstacles in front of him anymore, beyond his continued willingness to work hard.
"I was here last year," said Morris, referring to Moore's struggles. "I wanted to fight him coming off the field last year he was in such bad shape. That's not even close to an issue right now. I'm not worried about him getting through practice, I'm worried about him finishing every play like he started the first day in practice. Before, he was just getting through. I just want him to maintain that mental toughness and go through it."
So far, so good.
"The guy's done nothing but come to work every day," said Morris. "He's working hard; he just doesn't know how to work really hard yet. He doesn't know how to lock in and focus, but he's starting to get some of those things. He's starting to do it. He's starting to show up in team periods.
"I'm starting to see signs of life. I'm starting to see a guy grow into his own. He's done nothing but positive things. He's at every workout. He's showing flashes. He's really shown in this camp. I know it's rookies and he's got a little bit of an advantage, but hopefully he gives the veterans the same sort of attitude. I'm just looking for an angry, big man to come out of that man."
Morris wants his 2009 Buccaneers to be a tougher team, with a physical and violent style of play. That is specifically his goal for Moore, as well.
"Hopefully, his game is really tough and physical," said the coach. "That will be the dream thing that will happen. In training camp, I should be able to really rave about him, and then get into the preseason and just go."