Former Toledo star Moore emerging as Saints receiver, returner

METAIRIE, La. -- If pro football didn't work out, Lance Moore could always try being an action hero in the movies.

He has a black belt in karate, a sleek and sculpted body, quick feet, quick hands, and the former marketing major looks comfortable talking on camera as long as reporters will let him.

Yet, even after a shoulder injury ruined his scheduled appearance at the NFL combine, even after he wasn't drafted, even after the one team in his home state that gave him a tryout -- the Cleveland Browns -- cut him before the 2005 training camp ended, it never occurred to Moore that he wouldn't make it in the NFL.

"Success is something I've been striving for forever. It started with karate when I was 3 years old. I've always been taught to win and not give up," Moore said Tuesday between practices at the New Orleans Saints' headquarters. "I just told myself that I'm going to make it. That was pretty much it. It's never really crossed my mind, what am I going to do if this doesn't work out?"

If he does find a permanent spot on the Saints' active roster, Moore wouldn't be the smallest guy in the league at his position, but he doesn't have a prototypical receiver's build, either.

He's listed at 5-foot-9, 177 pounds. In fact, he weighs about 190 pounds now, he says, and would have been closer to that weight when his pro career began if not for a partial tear of cartilage in his shoulder during the 2004 Motor City Bowl, when he played for Toledo and compiled school records of 222 receptions for 2,776 yards and 25 touchdowns in 50 games. He also was a special teams standout, returning two punts for touchdowns.

After Cleveland cut him, the Saints picked him up. He spent much of 2005 and 2006 on the practice squad and still has yet to make himself a fixture on an active roster.

Last season, he had several things working against him. He hadn't yet refined his receiving skills enough to get regular work at that position, and the Saints already had a prominent kick and punt return specialist in former Pro Bowler Michael Lewis.

During this past offseason, head coach Sean Payton waived Lewis, who was 35 and struggling to work his way up the depth chart as a receiver.

Payton likes to fill roster spots with players who can contribute in multiple ways. Moore has proven he can do that. He's in the rotation returning both kicks and punts. He can play receiver and he's in on kick coverage.

"Not taking anything away from Michael, but as you looked at Michael Lewis and how I looked at him was as a returner first who could play receiver," Payton said. "In Lance's case, he's someone who has improved as a returner but is a little further along as a receiver."

Moore's growth at receiver was never more apparent than at Cincinnati last Saturday night. He led the team with six catches for 70 yards.

He also ran back a kickoff 47 yards and played mistake-free on punt returns.

A game earlier, Moore had inexplicably fielded a punt on the Saints' 6-yard line when he should have let it take a likely bounce into the end zone. Payton criticized Moore for it publicly, but gave him a shot to redeem himself.

"I knew I had to show up. I knew I had to play well in the return game and definitely not make any mistakes like that again," Moore said. "I feel like I can't have any kind of a bad game, regardless of what my situation is -- roster or bubble guy or anything like that. I feel like I've got to go out every day and continue to prove myself."

Based on quarterback Drew Brees' assessment this week, Moore has proven himself rather well since the Saints reported for training camp late last month.

"If I were to give a guy the MVP of training camp, it would probably be Lance Moore. That guy has been incredible," Brees said. "He's caught the eye of everybody here. I think we all kind of saw him progressing and he's playing hard. I definitely think he can contribute for us this year."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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