When it came time for the 45th pick in April's draft, Broncos fans were in general looking for a lineman - preferably a defensive tackle, but a right tackle would have been fine with most of us. When Rahim Moore’s number was called, some fans lapsed into outright stupors - they WHAT? REALLY? What the ….? Others simply threw things at their sets, cats or walls. They didn’t need to have worried.
A little time has passed, and the Broncos' new brain trust has shown some good reasons why they’ve gone the route that they have. Perhaps most interesting to me has been keeping an archive of all the comments made by head coach John Fox, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen and linebackers coach Richard Smith as the team moves forward. I’ve also kept one on special teams coordinatorJeff Rodgers, who has specifically mentioned his pleasure in gaining two safeties, three linebackers and a couple of TEs who can fly down the field. In the broad strokes that have been drawn up for the fans' benefit, the team has avoided giving too many specifics, but has outlined just what the Broncos want to do to get back into the role of a perennial playoff prospect. Four things headed the list, mostly for the defense:
1. Speed - There’s little question that the team’s overall level of speed was lacking in 2009 and 2010. Head Coach John Fox says it's the most important way for the Broncos to improve. Put it at one, two or three - it’s still hard to argue against the idea that a faster club on defense would be a good thing. Both Moore and Quinton Carter are in the general 4.6-second region in the 40, but Moore broke the 4-second mark on his 20-yard shuttle at Combine, with a time of 3.96. He’s quick, and he takes very good angles, which is far more important to a safety than sheer speed (handy as that is to have around). Carter wasn’t far behind at 4.04 in his shuttle time. Third-year player David Bruton averaged 4.46 in the 40 before he was drafted and has a 42.5-inch vertical leap, but finished his short shuttle in 4.28. With the additions of Von Miller, Nate Irving, Virgil Green and Julius Thomas, Denver is a much faster team than it was last season.
2. Aggression - This is something that Denver has been working on for the past couple of seasons, but hadn’t found the right mix yet. Linebacker Joe Mays carries the nickname ‘The De-cleator’ and Denver fans have seen him earn it. Irving, the newest candidate for middle linebacker was ‘The Predator’ in college. Miller loves to laugh and joke off the field - at game time, he’s a very different, very aggressive person. Kevin Vickerson was a highly athletic, very aggressive player last year who may get his shot at starting undertackle in 2011. Carter gives enormously of himself off the field - but on it, he’s been one mean safety. Orlando Franklin has a well-known, seriously nasty on-field attitude on the offensive line. Mike Mohamed was one of the starting four LBs (along with Zach Follett, Anthony Felder and Worrell Williams - DJ’s younger brother, who was with Denver briefly) on his Cal team that were collectively known as ‘The Wrecking Crew’.
3. Ballhawks - This is one area that Rahim Moore fits into well. One of the differences in college is that you can just run your plays away from your opponent's top defensive back, which happened to Moore in 2010, resulting in a move to strong safety. It’s a lot harder to do that in the NFL, and Denver’s been collecting some excellent DBs - Moore had 10 INTs his sophomore year before his role in the defense changed. Over his junior year, he only had one - but his tackles went up from 49 to 77 (with four solo and three for loss), despite teams running their plays away from him. He was asked to do other things, and he did them well. Darcel McBath has had two INTs in each of his first two years of limited reps after accumulating 12 in college, and Perrish Cox was one of 15 NFL players and only eight rookies to make 50+ tackles and break up 14+ passes during the 2010 season, adding one INT. It’s an area that Denver will need to be consistent in working on.
It wasn’t just DBs, either. Mike Mohamed has a knack for being around the football that he showed off at Cal. In the Golden Bears’ best performance last year, a narrow loss to Oregon, Mohamed had a career-high 16 tackles. “I think the first thing that stands out is that I’m a ball hawk. I’m relentless,” Mohamed said. Von Miller and Nate Irving are more of the same, although even more talented.
4. Self-starters - The Broncos want leaders, not followers. Denver's 2011 draft class is loaded with team captains: Quinton Carter, Rahim Moore, Von Miller, Mike Mohamed and Nate Irving are examples. This is also an area where the McDaniels/Xanders team was active: seeking out draft picks with leadership qualities. David Bruton and Darcel McBath are other examples of the same.
In short, Dennis Allen told 102.3 FM (podcast), "The rules in the NFL are geared towards the offense. We don’t want to adjust to opposing offenses, we want to make them adjust to us. So we're building a fast, aggressive, nasty defense that is going to attack the offense, and get after the quarterback. We're going to make them make mistakes cause we're going to be playing very fast, and very aggressively.” Denver believes that Moore can be an essential piece in that puzzle, and Dennis Allen has shown that he knows how to use a safety to their maximum level of skill.
As the Saints’ defensive backs coach in 2009 during their Super Bowl run, he helped develop a career season from Darren Sharper that consisted of 71 tackles, 15 passes defensed and nine interceptions. Nine was as many as Sharper had notched in the previous three seasons combined. New Orleans would finish that season third in interceptions, returning five of them for touchdowns including three by Sharper. Moore has been told that he’s going to be groomed for the FS position for Denver. Since the year is already behind in terms of OTAs and mini-camps, Moore may have a year to develop before taking on that role. That may play to his advantage - he is 6’0 and 202 lb, but looks slender and only put up 11 reps on the bench press. He and strength coach Rich Tuten could become close.
Rahim Moore was born on February 11, 1990 in Los Angeles to parents Rodney Moore and Nowana Buchanan. He has one sister, Duraisha, and one brother, Rasheed, and is the first Bronco to be born in the decade of the 1990s, for those of us who are starting to feel older. He was a star four-year letterman in football as both a DB and a WR under coach Paul Knox of Susan Miller Dorsey High School in LA. Moore recorded 112 tackles, eight interceptions, 10 pass deflections and three fumble recoveries on defense his senior year alone, and added 15 receptions for 339 yards (22.60 ypc) and six touchdowns on offense. He accepted a scholarship to local UCLA, after being chased by Arizona, Arizona State, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas.
It didn’t take long for him to find his niche. In fact, Moore played every game from his freshman year on, and will be only 21 years old as a rookie in the NFL. He started from Game 1 at free safety, and even during his freshman year, he earned All-Pacific 10 Conference honorable mention and was the Defensive Co-Recipient of UCLA’s John Concheff, Jr. Memorial Award for Rookie of the Year. He started all 12 games at free safety and became the first true freshman to start a season opener for UCLA since Matt Ware back in 2001. In addition to four PDs, he ranked fourth on the Bruins with 60 tackles, 32 of them solo, while recovering two fumbles. He led a secondary that finished second in the conference and eighth in the nation in pass defense (167.67 ypg), and pulled in three INTs himself.
Rahim really gained recognition in his sophomore year, with 10 INTs at a nation-leading rate of 0.77 per game as well as earning an All-America second-team selection by both the Walter Camp Football Foundation and the Associated Press, and a third-team choice by The Sporting News. He was an All-Pacific 10 Conference first-team honoree who also earned Walter Camp Football Foundation National Defensive Player of the Week honors vs. San Diego State for a game in which he snatched three INTs. He also received honorable mention accolades for the Jim Thorpe Award (top college defensive back) and was the Co-Defensive recipient of UCLA’s Henry R. “Red” Sanders Award for Most Valuable Player. Suddenly, Moore was on everyone’s radar - especially that of the teams that UCLA went up against.
And that led to one of the common misnomers in talking about Moore - that somehow he regressed during his junior season. What happened is simply what I mentioned above - teams ran and threw away from him. UCLA needed a strong safety even more than a free safety, so he cheerfully made the move to help the team. I’m sure that he wondered about it at the time, but his tackling numbers soared, and his actual on-field performances were just as impressive - I got to watch several games of his and came away impressed each time. By the way, I also found Mike Mohamed to be a well-rounded, aggressive and talented inside linebacker, and the biggest shock of my draft weekend was seeing John Elway choose two Cal players and none from Stanford.
Moore’s performance last season brought an onslaught of recognition. It may be a weak safety class, but those who would assume that to mean that Moore is a weak prospect may have to revise their thinking. Moore was a team captain in 2010, and while playing strong safety he made 37 of his 77 tackles (51 solo) against the passing attack and 40 against the run. He was an All-America first-team selection by The Sporting News and third-team choice by The NFL Draft Report and the Associated Press, an All-Pacific 10 Conference first-team honoree, a Semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to college football’s top defensive back, a member of the watch lists for the Ronnie Lott Trophy (top IMPACT defender), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top college defender), Bednarik Award (top college defender) and Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. He also earned Special Recognition at the team’s postseason awards banquet. He made seven third-down stops and tackled five ballcarriers at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Ten of his hits were inside the red zone, including four on goal-line plays that went for no gain. Slender is his build, but he hits well.
Despite his location in California, Rahim Moore has been a Denver fan for a long time. Specifically, he’s been a Champ Bailey fan, and that extended to Brian Dawkins when Dawk was snapped up by Josh McDaniels. Getting to be mentored by two future Hall of Famers? Huge bonus. Moore also seems remarkably comfortable in his own skin, especially for such a young man. He commented for the Denver Post in response to a fan email:
“When I didn't get picked in the first round, I came home and I just knew I was going to be a Denver Bronco. You watch the draft and you hear things and you kind of get a feel where you're going. So I knew it was going to be Denver. And really, I would rather be drafted in the second round and have mentors like I will have in Champ and Dawkins. I'm in a place where I get to learn from guys with veteran leadership.” That’s pretty impressive thinking for a guy who just turned 21.
On the same train of thought, he once said to CBS4, “My mom has been through a lot … from drugs and also just strife. My dad was the same way. He’s out of my life. So I figure, ‘What can I do to change this?’ I used to think hard at night. Sometimes I wouldn’t sleep and sometimes I’d cry. I’d say, ‘What can I do to be a difference maker?’ And when I saw that football, boom, I knew it.” He’s used football to get himself a leg up in life. Now the only question is how high he’ll rise.
He added to the DP, “I'm not in the NFL just to make money. I want to leave a legacy and I think Denver is the place for that.” I’m looking forward to seeing him work towards that goal. Welcome to the Mile High City, Rahim.
And, Go Broncos!