PITTSBURGH (AP) Lance Moore played a cheerleader role when a lingering groin injury forced the Pittsburgh wide receiver to miss the first two weeks of the season.
The eight-year veteran provided Justin Brown with a second set of eyes, offering counsel and encouragement when he could. That kind of leadership is one of the reasons the Steelers brought Moore in after a standout career in New Orleans.
It’s just not the main reason. And after being an unwilling spectator, Moore will get a chance to start earning the two-year, $3 million deal he signed in March when the Steelers (1-1) play at Carolina (2-0) on Sunday night.
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”I just had to be patient,” Moore said. ”Muscle injuries aren’t something you can just hurry back. I’m feeling good now and worried about this week.”
Moore will work in the slot hoping to replicate the success he enjoyed with the Saints, where he carved out a niche as a savvy route runner who could read coverages and work his compact 5-foot-9, 190-pound frame into tight spaces.
”He understands how to get open in zones, how to beat man,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. ”To me it’s just the fact he’s been playing for such a long time in this league, he can bring a lot of experience and leadership to a young group.”
The Steelers have developed a reputation of turning the slot into the fountain of youth. Four-time Pro Bowl player Hines Ward spent his final seasons in the slot, long enough to play until age 35 and reach 1,000 career receptions. Jerricho Cotchery caught 10 touchdown passes in 2013, good enough for him to earn a five-year deal with Carolina.
Now it’s Moore’s turn to take advantage of the one-on-one coverage he expects while opponents focus on star Antonio Brown and second-year wideout Markus Wheaton.
”If you have kind of a one-trick pony offense, then defenses can do things to shut that one guy down,” Moore said. ”If you have two guys defenses can still do things to shut you down. When you have three or even four guys that can go out there and make plays it makes it so much tougher on defenses not to just defend you but scheme against you and that’s something I hope to add.”
Given a choice, Moore would love to be on the field every play. He understands that’s not part of his job description with the Steelers. It wasn’t in New Orleans and he still managed to catch 38 touchdown passes as part of the dynamic attack led by quarterback Drew Brees. Still, nagging injuries caught up with him in 2013. He finished with 37 receptions – the second-lowest total in a season in which he played at least 13 games – and the Saints cut him in March to save money.
Moore isn’t bitter. He understands the business side of things. And in a way Pittsburgh is a homecoming. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and played collegiately at Toledo, where he teamed with Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. The good friends are improbably reunited with the Steelers, though Moore understands his future relies on how quickly he gels with Roethlisberger.
Neither player believes that will be a problem. In a way, Moore’s ability to find open grass and Roethlisberger’s penchant for extending plays should lead to plenty of opportunities.
”Lance is a guy that is capable of helping us,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
Even in the running game. While admitting blocking isn’t a strength, Moore is willing to mix it up when necessary. The Steelers need a slot receiver who isn’t afraid to take on a linebacker. Their ability to run effectively when going to the no-huddle offense relies on it.
”We’re not getting the ball on every single play,” he said. ”You’ve got to do your job on the plays when the ball is not coming your way.”
Still, Moore anticipates seeing Roethlisberger look in his direction more than once against the Panthers. The two developed a quick rapport during organized team activities and training camp. The groin issue is just a speed bump Moore is only too eager to get past.
”We’ve had plenty of time, not much the last couple of weeks but plenty of time in the offseason and the training camp to get on the same page,” he said. ”Now it’s about going out there and actually doing it.”
NOTES: Rookie RB/WR Dri Archer (ankle) and G Ramon Foster (ankle) were limited in practice Wednesday. … NT Steve McLendon (shoulder) was a full participant.
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