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Moore's career built on ability, reliability Ravens: Durable and talented strong safety Stevon Moore, who hasn't missed a start in four seasons, has been a constant force on a defense wracked by injuries.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Stevon Moore has become known as much for his durability as the hard hits he delivers to receivers who cross his path. As he approaches his 30th birthday, the Ravens' veteran strong safety has come to appreciate his longevity.

Then again, Moore learned early in his NFL days how fleeting a career can be. As a seventh-round draft pick of the New York Jets out of Mississippi in 1989, Moore quickly turned heads with bone-jarring hits. He was on a course to unseat veteran Rich Miano as a starter before he went down in the preseason finale with a serious knee injury.

At the time, Moore's wife, pregnant with their first child, was driving north to be reunited with her husband for their first pro season together. The next time they saw each other, Moore was lying in a hospital, where doctors were preparing to perform reconstructive surgery on his knee.

"I'm in the hospital getting ready to have surgery, and my wife is on the highway getting ready to move up here [to New York]," Moore recalled. "I started crying, feeling sorry for myself. Some people were saying I'd probably never play again. That was a lot of reality to deal with."

The injury changed Moore's perspective. It made him appreciate the athletic gifts that opened the door for him to the big leagues. It forced him to recognize the NFL as a business first, since the Jets released him after that rookie season he had spent on the injured reserve list. It helped him get through the 1991 season with Miami, where he suffered another season-ending knee injury before the regular season had begun.

That first injury also changed his work habits, which Moore honed during a year-long rehabilitation that was grueling for a guy who had never been hurt since trying football for the first time in high school.

To this day, Moore remains fanatical about staying in top shape during the off-season, when he takes about two weeks off before resuming his regimen of running, weightlifting and working on the 107-acre farm he owns in his hometown of Wiggins, Miss.

Moore has not missed a start since the beginning of the 1993 season, the year after he left the Dolphins and signed with the Cleveland Browns as a Plan B free agent. Over that stretch, he has put together the best football of his career. And in a season in which the Ravens have lost many of their defensive starters at some point to injury, Moore has maintained a constant presence.

"He's a good cover guy who likes to hit. He tackles well and he lines up every week," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said of Moore, whose 97 tackles rank second on the team. "He's tough, he gives you everything he has and he really enjoys the game. Stevon is the type of guy you want on your squad."

The question is, will Moore be with the Ravens next year? His four-year, $4.7 million contract expires after this season. He will become a free agent if the Ravens do not re-sign him by Feb. 15.

Moore said when he heads back to Mississippi, where he hunts rabbit and squirrel on his farm and spends days bass fishing on Flint Creek, he will think about his future and picture himself with another team. For the past four years, Moore and free safety Eric Turner have formed one of the most imposing tandems in the NFL.

"I think that duo might be separated for the first time. I'll reflect on that a whole lot," Moore said. "I'd like to play here for a few more years. I've grown accustomed to being here, and I think I'm having a solid year. But, with the way the salary cap is set up, the reality is I might not be back."

Ozzie Newsome, the team's vice president of player personnel, said he wants the Turner-Moore combination to remain intact.

"Once the season is over, we'll initiate talks with [Moore's] agent," Newsome said. "I believe in building from your strength, and the strength in our secondary is those two safeties. They play well off of each other."

Turner, a first-round draft pick of Cleveland's in 1991, said, "Stevon and I kind of took off and grew up together. He got his first real opportunity to start when he came to Cleveland, and he made the best of it.

"We're at the point where I don't have to see where he is. I know where he is going to be. I know what he can do. And we're in that competitive mode. When he makes a play, I have to make a play, and vice versa."

After ending the 1992 season with Miami on injured reserve -- he suffered a separated shoulder in the 13th game -- Moore's career took off the next year with the Browns.

Moore, 5 feet 11, 210 pounds, rewarded the Browns with a team-high 96 solo tackles in 1993, and he has kept his game at a high level ever since. He followed that with 131 tackles in 1994, then played the last half of last season without Turner, who was out with a back injury. Moore was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate after finishing second on the team with 143 tackles and picking off a career-high five passes.

As for his sustained health over that stretch, Moore credits "my prayers" and off-season training in the only place Moore enjoys traveling to as much as the football field -- Wiggins (population 3,200), where most of his family still lives.

The youngest of five children, Moore used to earn summer spending money there by picking crops or by hauling wood with his uncle. His father is still a self-employed welder. His mother is a retired restaurant cook whose specialties include red beans and rice, fried chicken, chicken dumplings, corn bread, banana pudding and any kind of cake made from scratch.

Moore also dabbles in the cattle business. He is raising more than 100 of them on his farm, and he is usually up by 6 a.m. to begin tending to them.

"I'm not one who goes out with the cowboy boots and hat on. I just like being out there, feeding them, moving them from one field to another," Moore said. "I've got a 4-acre yard that keeps me pretty busy, too. I love going back home and just being outdoors."

Moore said he would love to play for another five or six years, depending on how well his body holds up. He would like to be part of the Ravens' defense next year, and he is sure it will rebound from the disappointing performances and the injuries that have marred this season.

Rookie cornerback DeRon Jenkins said he'd like Moore to stick around. He added that Moore has taught him much about the NFL.

"He's been like an older brother to me," Jenkins said. "He's really helped me off the field with the mental aspect of the transition from college to the pros. He never loses his composure on the field. Just because you're a good player doesn't mean you're a good person. Stevon happens to be both."

Said Moore: "I think I can add a lot to this defense in the future. I'm a winner, a competitor and a leader. It's up to management. They know I'll lay it on the line for this franchise. Hopefully, we can work things out and I'll be back."

Pub Date: 12/06/96

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