Been there, done that: Kellen Moore ready for another underdog role
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Kellen Moore dropped back to pass on the first snap of a 7-on-7 drill at Detroit Lions’ rookie camp on Friday and unleashed a deep ball that overshot Marcus Harris by several yards. Three plays later, his pass was barely in the same vicinity as a streaking Troy Burrell.
And not five minutes later, when Moore airmailed a simple out route, all he could do was angrily slap his hands together, mutter a couple of frustrated words and head back to the huddle.
After practice ended, Lions coach Jim Schwartz met with the media and said — plain as day — that there was no guarantee that Moore would be a member of the team’s final 53-man roster when the regular season rolled around.
As first days go, this one was akin to showing up for school with no pants on.
Here’s how Moore responded: by bounding into his brief press conference with a smile glued to his face.
“It was nice to get out there finally,” Moore said. “We’re kind of done with that whole scouting and combine process, and now you can just play football, which is obviously something we love to do.”
You’ll forgive Moore if the “whole scouting and combine process” is low on his list of career highlights. He spent most of that time getting knocked for various drawbacks: his lack of height, the somewhat-weak level of competition he faced in college, his lack of familiarity with a pro-style offense.
But getting back on the field gave him a chance to move forward from all that, even if he faces an uphill battle to make the Lions’ regular-season roster. It should come as no surprise then, despite straining through an uneven performance with his new team, that Moore was perfectly content.
He found out what it meant to earn his way during his college career, the unexpected star for the team carrying the banner for small schools everywhere.
Sure, being a first-round draft pick would have been nice. Heck, seeing his name called at all among the other 11 QBs selected (all with fewer career wins than Moore, by the way) would have been a huge bonus.
But not being picked might work out even better.
Why? Moore gave his answer last week:
“You always try to find a way to be an underdog.”
It is August of 2008. The first game of the season against Idaho State looms for Boise State and head coach Chris Petersen.
Just two years removed from a perfect 13-0 run and thrilling Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma, Petersen has to decide between two potential starting quarterbacks: fifth-year senior Bush Hamdan, who spent the past several years backing up Boise State gunslingers Jared Zabransky and Taylor Tharp, and redshirt freshman Kellen Moore.
The presence of a baby-faced Moore at one of Petersen’s press conferences tips off his decision.
“We feel like Kellen gives us the best chance right now, and we’re ready to roll,” Petersen says, gesturing to Moore, a record-setting prep QB in Washington and the son of a high school football coach.
“I think he’s got a tremendous feel for the game,” Petersen adds. “You can coach guys up, teach them where to go with the ball, but a lot of this comes down to instincts and quick decisions …
“You can’t teach ‘em and that’s what I think he excels at.”
Petersen’s decision turns out to be one of the best of his career. As the first freshman QB to start a season-opener in Boise State history, Moore throws for 274 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-7 victory over Idaho State, then connects on his first 11 passes and scores a rushing TD in his next game against Bowling Green.
The Broncos’ third outing takes them on the road for the first time, to Oregon’s Autzen Stadium, one of the most intimidating venues for visiting teams to play. Moore shreds the Ducks for 386 yards and three touchdowns, helping Boise State score a 37-32 upset, the program’s first-ever road win against a BCS-conference foe.
And that’s only the beginning.
Moore starts his career 12-0 and, incredibly, wins 36 of his first 37 starts. His lone setback comes in a 17-16 heartbreaker in the Poinsettia Bowl against TCU to close out his freshman campaign. The Broncos would then go undefeated in 2009, capping the year with a revenge-filled 17-10 victory over then-No. 3 TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
Moore would lose just two games, total, after the Poinsettia Bowl crusher: on Nov. 26, 2010, kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a 26-yard field goal at the end of regulation that would have given Boise State a win over Nevada, then shanked a 29-yarder in overtime to seal a loss; in 2011, kicker Dan Goodale missed a potential game-winning kick from 39 yards out as Boise State fell by a point to TCU.
Moore finished his college career with a 50-3 record, a perfect 14-0 season in 2010 that many argued should have placed Boise State in the national title discussion and a fourth-place finish in the Heisman voting that year. Along the way, his Broncos took down Georgia, Virginia Tech, Utah, Arizona State, and Oregon twice.
So why didn’t anyone want to draft him?
Watching Kellen Moore on film presented a conundrum for NFL scouts: Which player did they really see?
Was it the quarterback who did almost nothing but win during his four years running Boise State’s offense — the one who put up 14,667 passing yards and 142 touchdowns? Or was it the undersized, 6-foot QB with limited mobility and questionable arm strength?
Most NFL teams were stuck between the two worlds, trying to decipher if Moore was the “winner” franchises always clamor for or if he was doomed to be a career backup, unable to make the improvements necessary to play at the next level.
The 2012 NFL Draft was top-heavy at the QB position, with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III going off the board 1-2, then Ryan Tannehill following close behind at No. 8 and Brandon Weeden landing at 22. There were no big surprises there. And the same could be said for the second tier of quarterbacks — Brock Osweiler, Nick Foles, Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins — who heard their names called in Rounds 3 and 4, respectively.
With each selection that went by, Moore inched closer and closer to plummeting out of the draft altogether. By the latter stages of the draft’s third day, he stopped paying attention.
“I kind of quit watching toward the end,” Moore said.
Hearing his phone ring made that easier to do. Before all 253 picks were made, Moore had received calls from several NFL teams, including the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers.
Detroit’s pitch, to learn behind Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill in a QB-friendly offense, made up his mind.
“Like any kid, you dream is to be drafted, but things happen for a reason, things come in goofy ways,” Moore said. “You realize you couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
Moore did not have to look far at Lions’ rookie camp to see the type of future that he wants to avoid. Sharing reps with him at QB was R.J. Archer, who went undrafted in 2010, briefly caught on with the Minnesota Vikings and has spent the past two years toiling away in the Arena Football League.
When camp ended, Archer headed back to join the Georgia Force AFL team.
Moore will be back with the Lions when their Offseason Team Activities (OTAs) kick off later this month and, presumably, will join them for training camp and the preseason. In order for this partnership to last beyond that, Moore will have to perform much better than he did during his first NFL weekend.
The ex-Boise State star struggled constantly with his accuracy — both downfield and on short, precision-based routes. For much of the weekend, Archer actually outperformed Moore.
Maybe that’s what Schwartz had in mind when, after chalking up a lot of the offense’s struggles to players being unfamiliar with each other, he made sure it was clear that Moore has to earn a spot.
“We’ll see how it shakes out — we’re going to keep our best 53 players when we get out of training camp,” Schwartz said. “To make that decision now is not a wise decision. We’ve got to see who our best 53 (are).
“Last year, we kept three (quarterbacks), but it doesn’t mean that we’ll keep three this year and it doesn’t mean that we’ll keep two. It’s just really dependent on how it goes and who earns a spot on the 53-man roster.”
The Lions, as Schwartz pointed out, “weren’t in the quarterback market so to speak,” but rated Moore highly enough to take a shot on him.
“Obviously he (had) a lot of success,” Schwartz said. “There were a lot of things that we liked about him and when the opportunity arose …”
Now, it’s up to Moore.
Luck and Griffin III are already penned in as starters for the upcoming year. Tannehill and Weeden will be in the mix to claim the No. 1 jobs for their respective teams. Even Wilson, a third-round pick, could wind up starting in Seattle, if Pete Carroll’s recent high praise is to be believed.
The expectations are much lower — and possibly much more manageable — for Moore.
Detroit already has Matthew Stafford in place as its franchise QB, and Shaun Hill provides a reliable backup. Needing to play a third-string quarterback is the Lions’ doomsday scenario (though one that surfaced just two years ago when both Stafford and Hill were sidelined by injuries). Barring that all-hands-on-deck moment, Moore could have some time to settle in and learn the offense.
That is, if he makes the team.
Moore has a little less than four months to prove himself worthy of a permanent job in Detroit. At the very least, he wants to perform well enough to earn another crack elsewhere if the Lions pass.
His scenario puts him a long way from the Robert Griffin IIIs and Andrew Lucks of the world — which may be exactly where Moore needs to be, a little under the radar.
That underdog role? He’ll take it, even if he’s ready to move on.
“It’s kind of past us,” Moore said. “That doesn’t affect anything anymore.
“Bottom line is you get an opportunity and you’ve got to take advantage of it.”