Tampa Bay Buccaneers

On the Right Path

Second-year man Kyle Moore could eventually challenge for the starting job at left defensive end if he continues the steady progress that began late last year

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One is from the Big 12, the other is from the PAC 10. They both play D-line. They went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with successive picks in the draft. Both are as yet unproven but considered potential stars in the making.

Those are accurate notes about Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, the Oklahoma and UCLA defensive tackles who were drafted by Tampa Bay in the first and second rounds this past April. Certainly the Buccaneers dream of McCoy and Price shepherding their defense back to the top of the rankings.

But those notes also apply quite directly to another pair of Buc linemen, Roy Miller and Kyle Moore. In 2009, the Buccaneers used a third-round pick on Texas' Miller and their fourth-round choice on USC's Moore. That year's first-rounder was reserved for the franchise quarterback pick, Josh Freeman, but Miller and Moore were the first defensive picks made by new General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris, two unabashedly defensive-minded folks.

McCoy and Price seem to be at center stage right now, and for good reason. They are highly-rated prospects at a position the Bucs badly needed to address, and if they live up to expectations they almost certainly will transform the Bucs' defense. In the long run, however, Miller and Moore might prove to be extremely important to the team's fortunes, too.

Miller actually began defining his role last year, playing in all but one game as a reserve and racking up 54 tackles and 2.0 sacks. Even with the additions of McCoy and Price, the Buccaneers believe there is going to be a lot of work for the former Longhorn in 2010.

Moore, however, had a bit of a delayed start to his rookie campaign. He was inactive for each of the first eight games, largely due to minor injuries. When he did get onto the field, he was used sparingly at first. By December, however, Moore seemed to have found his NFL legs, and he played well down the stretch, as did the Bucs' defense as a whole. His final numbers were not overwhelming - 14 tackles and one pass defensed - but Morris pointed to the then-rookie as a player who showed obvious improvement at season's end.

Now Morris says that improvement has continued, and in fact picked up speed. The second-year end has trimmed a few pounds, hit the playbook hard and looked very much like a potential factor in 2010. In fact, Morris has started to ponder Moore's future as a possible starter.

"I think it's a little bit more than just the weight loss for Kyle," said the coach. "He's one of the guys who's come in here and really taken it to the next step, the next stage of his life. I think it's going to be a part of him becoming our starting left end and going out there and really becoming a force, becoming a leader on this team at some point."

Moore is an upbeat, quick-to-smile type, so there weren't really any signs of frustration last fall while he was trying to learn on the fly. Still, he has clearly seemed more comfortable this spring and summer and that's the product of a lot of hard work.

"I feel a lot better," said Moore. "Last year I finished off strong and the coaches were happy with me. Coming into this offseason, my main focus was to get faster, get my explosion back, lose a little weight. I feel a lot more comfortable with the defense now. We've been doing a lot of install, a lot of meetings with [Defensive Line] Coach [Todd] Wash and he's getting me right. So, yeah, I feel a lot better out here on the field."

Even if Moore begins to hone in on the left end position - where the Buccaneers lost 15 starts from the 2009 lineup with the departure of Jimmy Wilkerson - his inside/outside versatility should help him add snaps. On Monday, for instance, Moore spent a good deal of time taking snaps at defensive tackle. At the time, the first-team offense and first-team defense were squaring off in a move-the-ball two-minute drill, and the coaches probably wanted a lighter, quicker defensive line on the field for the rapidly-paced pass plays.

"He's starting to fill his way into those roles," said Morris. "You see him and he's the first guy out and the first guy in drills. He's the first guy wanting to go. How he approaches practice, how he approaches everyday workouts, how he approaches the meeting concept. Everything is starting to develop and it's getting better and better every day. He's got to stay on that path so he can have success."

The two ends on the Bucs' roster with the most starts in 2009 are Stylez G. White (eight) and Tim Crowder (four). Moore may be relatively green, but so is most of his competition. After White and Crowder, there isn't an end on the roster with more than one year of NFL experience. The situation is ripe for a young player like Moore or Michael Bennett or Erik Lorig to step up and grab an expanded role. Moore could be that player simply by continuing the upward course he's been on since late last fall.

"It is a good opportunity," he said. "We've got a lot of defensive ends and a lot of talent. They're trying stuff out and I think it's going to be the best man that wins. I'm going to go hard every day, give it all I've got and show the coaches that I can be that starter. I'm just going to continue to do my job."

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