Rookie Moore showing versatility on defensive line

Rookie Moore showing versatility on defensive line
August 11, 2014, 12:30 pm
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FOXBORO -- Zach Moore is a project. He knows it. The Patriots know it.

But the 6-foot-5, 270-pound rookie who was a sixth-round selection out of Division 2 Concordia University has shown flashes of his potential through a few weeks of training camp.

With 33.75-inch arms and almost 10-inch hands, he has physical gifts that are hard to come by for defenders who make their livings trying leverage offensive linemen from their paths. Couple those gifts with rare athleticism -- he ran a 4.84 40-yard dash at the Combine, posted a 33.5 vertical leap, and had a 10-foot-3 broad jump -- and the Patriots have in Moore the building blocks for a hard-to-handle defensive lineman.

As coaches have worked with him to refine the skills that helped him dominate at the Division 2 level, he's done his best to soak up every lesson.

"Everything's been fantastic," Moore said. "I'm just taking each day, continuing to develop. I do have raw traits that I'm trying to use in my favor, to harness to make me a better player. That's just something that my coaches are really trying to help me with developing so I can become a more every-down player."

Moore's length and power help open up for him various assignments. While he's most experienced as a defensive end, he's also played at the defensive tackle spot and could even be used as an outside linebacker. He saw plenty of reps on the inside Sunday and may continue to see more there after defensive tackles Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones suffered injuries last week.

"It hasn't been too tough," Moore said of the shift inside. "Just different. Everything happens quicker on the inside. But I want to increase my versatility. Wherever they want to put me, or wherever they think I can play, I want to do my best at that position. I want to show the coaches that I can do more than just rush from the outside. If they want to put me at the three-technique or outside linebacker, I want to do whatever they want me to do."

There's been a learning curve facing off against guards and centers as opposed to tackles and tight ends. And the responsibilities at defensive tackle are different from those that Moore's used to on the edge. Like everything else he's faced in making the move from Division 2 to the NFL, it's just a matter of making adjustments.

"I learned that the hard way," Moore said. "It's very different from college. You have to understand situations, downs and distances, personnel, all those types of things. You can't just pin your ears back. You have to recognize the situation, the down and distance and the sticks."

Moore looked strong at times in Thursday night's preseason game against the Redskins. He put opposing tackles on skates on two occasions, driving them backwards to help collapse Washington's pocket. He never got to the quarterback, but finished with two tackles and came away with a few more coaching points to focus on.

Unlike in at the collegiate level, where he was able to have great success using rip moves and countering them with hump moves -- Patriots fans who remember Reggie White's performance in Super Bowl XXXI will remember what that particular technique looks like -- Moore knows now he'll have to develop a few more tools for his pro career.

"That was Division 2 and this is a whole higher level than that," Moore said. "You've got to go back to the drawing the board figure out what move works on which tackles, but they're all different. You have to study each one and figure out what works best for that tackle.

"Really I'm trying to work on my all-around game. Power moves, finesse moves, working the corner, working the edge. Getting guys light on their feet so I can use power moves. Throwing changeups in there. Just trying to increase my repertoire of moves, so to speak."

After Sunday's practice finished with some conditioning hill runs, Moore spent time with some of his fellow defensive linemen honing his hand placement, learning better how to manipulate blockers by knowing where to attack their pads. It was just the latest lesson in Moore's non-stop NFL education.

The jump to becoming a professional is a significant one for all rookies, Patriots coach Bill Belichick has explained in the past. But because of the college level from which Moore has arrived, his initiation is all the more difficult.

"Yeah, he would have one of the biggest [jumps], no question, one of the biggest," Belichick said. "He’s been out here every day, works hard. We’ve got a long way to go, but [he’s] getting better. He works on a lot of little things, he’s in good condition, he’s taken a lot of reps and he’ll need to take a lot more, but he’s making progress. Works hard. No issues, just a long way to go."

"He's absolutely right about the jump from Division 2," Moore said. "It is a big jump. But I'm just taking each day to get better, focus on what I need to focus on, try to use the techniques they want us to use, and me specifically. I just overall want to get my game better and to take it every day one step at a time, whether it's a little step or a big step, make sure I'm progressing with each step. I'm having fun out here. It's critical to make the most of this opportunity because you don't know when you'll get it again. I'm grateful -- very, very grateful to be here."

Moore said that a year ago, when he was in St. Paul, Minnesota preparing for his final college season, he never pictured this is where he would end up. Once in a while he allows himself the opportunity to savor his journey, but those moments don't linger. He knows there's work to be done. He's a project, after all. 

"I just continue to work hard, keep my faith, keep my focus," he said. "Overall that's what got me here. I'm just trying to continue to develop. I got a long way to go, but I'm trying to take steps in the right direction so I can become a better player."