Moore resolved to return to form

Ravens: Veteran strong safety Stevon Moore realizes his starting job is in jeopardy, but he intends to rise to the challenge.

June 11, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Stevon Moore says he knows the twilight of his career is at hand, but don't think the Ravens' 10-year veteran strong safety is planning to fade away quietly.

So what if the Ravens say third-year safety Kim Herring could be ready to bump Moore out of the starting lineup? So what if Moore has accepted a cut in pay that will chop his scheduled $1 million salary nearly in half in 1999? So what if Moore is coming off his most troubling season in years, and is trying to complete a comeback from the third serious knee injury of his career?

Moore realizes his role in 1999 could be restricted to special teams and dime-coverage duty. Has he accepted such a fate? Not a chance.

Where the Ravens see a downside, Moore, 32, sees a chance to open eyes one more time. He relishes the chance to prove he is completely recovered from the double knee surgery that brought his 1997 season to a premature end, yet did not prevent him from starting all 16 games last year.

"How many guys in this league have had both knees operated on and bounced back to play 16 games and finish third on the team in tackles?" Moore said.

"Obviously, I was missing a step last year. I didn't have that explosion in my step. But I'm getting better with each [minicamp]. My weight is down. I'm getting that burst back. I'm not rehabbing now. I'm training. I'm going into [training] camp to compete for the [starting] job. I'm going to make something happen."

What hasn't happened to Moore since constant knee pain forced him out of action in December 1997, interrupting a streak of 77 consecutive starts?

First, there was the surgery that yielded a disturbing surprise. What began as an arthroscopic procedure on both knees became more complicated once doctors found osteochondral fractures in each knee. Picture having a divot at the bottom of your femur, just above the knee.

Moore pressed on with a brutal rehabilitation schedule in the off-season, and still took the field in time for training camp last July. Then, near the end of camp, he suffered a separated shoulder, but returned to the lineup for the season opener and never left.

Moore's ailments weighed on him noticeably during much of 1998. His quickness slipped. His reaction time was slow. Reviewing tape of his performances from the season left Moore feeling as if a stranger had donned his No. 27 jersey. As he recapped the secondary's less-than-stellar showing -- the Ravens had the NFL's 25th-ranked pass defense -- Moore pointed a finger at himself.

"I'd be watching the film, saying to myself, `You should have been there two seconds earlier.' I was always a step late. I had a lot to do with some of the bad plays that happened," said Moore, whose swift comeback earned him the team's Ed Block Courage Award.

All along, team doctors looked at Moore's recovery as a two-year process. And by the end of the season, Moore felt himself turning a corner physically -- which made the news tougher to take a few days before the Ravens' first minicamp in April. That's when Moore found out that Herring was being paired with Rod Woodson as safeties with the first team.

Defensive backs coach Steve Shafer dismissed Moore's placement on the depth chart at such an early date.

"I saw some good and some bad from Stevon on film from last year, and more of it was good near the end of the season, because he was healthier," Shafer said. "The depth chart means absolutely nothing right now. The only chart that means anything to me is the one that's up before that final preseason game."

The Ravens are wondering if Herring is the answer, although he presents another history of injuries and is far more unproven than Moore. Herring missed most of 1998 with a shoulder injury.

"I've learned a lot about the game and the pace of the game from Stevon. I came up with him," Herring said. "He's working just as hard now as he did when he was my age. That made me work that much harder to come back from my injury."

Rest assured, Moore plans on giving the kid a run for his money. Remember, Moore spent two of his first three NFL years on injured reserve with knee injuries. That has not stopped him from racking up 777 career tackles, 10 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

"I'm going to prove once again that I'm driven to play at a high-intensity level. I'm going to make it tougher on the guys in front of me and the guys upstairs making the decisions," Moore said. "I'm not a selfish player, I'm a team player. But that doesn't mean I have to accept being a second-string player."

NOTES: Tight end Aaron Pierce, making a comeback after sitting out the 1998 season, missed yesterday's workout with Achilles tendinitis, and is expected to miss today's practice as well. Team owner Art Modell is wearing a soft cast to protect a broken ankle he suffered in a recent fall at his home. Wide receiver Webster Slaughter missed yesterday's workout due to prior commitments. The Ravens have four quarterbacks in camp, five if you count free-agent wide receiver Kendrick Nord, formerly a quarterback at Grambling. Nord spent part of yesterday's practice lofting some impressive 30-yard spirals to his fellow receivers.

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