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Two years ago Lance Moore was happy to be on an NFL team's practice squad. Now he's the New Orleans Saints' leading receiver.
Few NFL gurus or general managers could have predicted this quick ascent for Moore, since the former University of Toledo star went undrafted after setting the Rockets' all-time receiving marks from 2001-04. As for Moore, he's not in the predictions business.
"Coming in, all I really expected was to continue to work hard," said Moore, whose brother Nick just completed his UT football career. "If and when I got the opportunity to play, I knew I had to make the most of it. I did the same things I've been doing playing football all my life. I needed to be ready when called."
Moore and the Saints (7-7) travel to Detroit on Sunday to face the Lions knowing they won't be part of the playoffs. But one success New Orleans can celebrate is Moore's season. He is sixth in the league with eight touchdown catches and has averaged 12 yards per reception this year.
"He's a great worker and very detailed in what he does," New Orleans coach Sean Payton told reporters recently. "There's some similarities, having coached Ike Hilliard. When I had Ike in
New York, Ike has those same characteristics in that's he's very intelligent, he's very reliable and understands what you want from him each week. To function offensively, you need that."
At 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, Moore set numerous receiving records at UT with 25 touchdowns, 222 receptions and 2,776 receiving yards in his career. An injury he suffered in the 2004 Motor City Bowl limited his pre-draft workouts, and his only option was to sign a free-agent deal with the Cleveland Browns in 2005.
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But the Browns cut him in training camp and the Saints picked him up. He played in just four games in two years, with the offseasons in NFL Europe, but was glad to have a team.
"When I first got here, I was actually just happy to be here," Moore said. "I wasn't sure where my career was going to go. As the weeks went along, I was making plays on the practice squad. I knew I could play for real and eventually I would get a chance."
Moore, 25, made the Saints' 53-man roster last season, with quarterback Drew Brees calling him the MVP of training camp. He played in all 16 games in 2007, catching 32 passes, two for touchdowns.
This year is when he has truly opened eyes around the league, though. He became Brees' No. 1 option early in the season when teammate Marques Colston had a broken finger and tight end
Jeremy Shockey was also out with injuries. He has also
returned punts when Reggie Bush has been injured.
"That's a part of this business, people get hurt on a daily basis in the NFL," said Moore, a Westerville South alumnus. "There can't be a letup when the next guy comes in. That was my case this year. Having a chance to get into the starting lineup and make plays, I wanted to make so many plays they couldn't sit me down."
He has 67 catches for 801 yards. According to Stats, Inc., Moore has dropped one pass out of the 104 Brees has thrown to him this year. Moore knows the consistency he has displayed is the key to a long pro career.
"The more consistent you can be, the longer you can stay in the league," Moore said. "If you're an older guy, they can bring you in because they know you're consistent. As a young guy, you have to be consistent because that can be a easy way to cut you loose if you're not."
Moore's on-field relationship with Brees has been important to his success, Payton saying, "There's obviously a lot of confidence that Drew has in him."
Moore's opinion of his Pro-Bowl quarterback is that "Drew is so good, he makes it fairly easy for us to go out there and play. We don't have to think about or do anything extra. We have faith he's going to have the ball in the right place and right time."
His big season is likely to pay off for Moore this spring. After making a salary of $520,000 this season, he is an unrestricted free agent in March. He wouldn't mind staying in New Orleans.
"I haven't really thought about it too much because I don't control any of that," Moore said. "All I can control is showing up on Sundays. But I like being here, I'd like to stay here with Drew and my teammates, and hopefully win a championship here."
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