Moore tackles impatience; Ravens backup safety itching for greater role


His 11th season has been the strangest of his career, because safety Stevon Moore is not accustomed to riding the bench while enjoying good health.

"It's been weird. It's been different being on the sideline as more of a cheerleader," Moore said. "Sometimes, I don't feel like I'm a part of things, like when I see so many guys banged up in the training room. I kind of miss that soreness."

Moore has been sore since the Ravens told him last spring that he had lost his starting job at strong safety to third-year player Kim Herring.

For a guy who already had overcome three knee injuries, had fully recovered from surgery to both knees in December 1997 and had recorded 777 career tackles, the thought of becoming a special teams contributor before training camp did not sit well.

The reality is no less upsetting to Moore, who, before last week's 35-8 loss to Kansas City, had performed almost exclusively on special teams, while participating in about 12 plays a game. Then, an Achilles' injury to Herring suddenly sent Moore into the defensive huddle for the first time in 1999.

"There was a double-take. Guys were looking at me like 'what are you doing here?' " Moore said. "Boy, it felt good. I didn't have any butterflies, because I've been there before. I hated to see Kim get hurt and force me in there in that situation, but I'm good enough and skilled enough to get the job done. I give the guys a morale booster, a leadership booster and a physical booster. But I have to accept my [backup] role."

Before Herring rejoined the action, Moore took part in 10 plays, recording two tackles. He also allowed a first-down completion to tight end Tony Gonzales after making a mistake in pass coverage.

With the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL, the Ravens don't have much to complain about on that side of the ball. But the unit is far from perfect. It has failed to force a turnover in two consecutive games, and has yet to get big-play production out of the safety positions.

Neither Herring nor free safety Rod Woodson has an interception this year. And Herring has not been the physical force a strong safety typically is expected to be. He has 22 tackles, good for seventh on the team. He has deflected one pass and recovered a fumble.

In the distant future, the Ravens might envision a combination of Herring at free safety and Anthony Poindexter on the strong side, should Poindexter complete his remarkable comeback from a serious knee injury next year.

In the immediate future, could Moore supplant Herring as a starter? Moore increasingly has shared first-team practice repetitions with Herring, whom the Ravens acknowledge is undersized (6 feet, 200 pounds) and inexperienced at his current position.

Defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis hinted that Moore could get some playing time with the first-team defense in the coming weeks. Lewis also defended Herring's performance.

"A lack of tackles is good for our safeties. That's not a reflection on Kim," Lewis said. "He's where he needs to be. If the other team is rushing for 100 yards a game, we might have a problem. But [linebacker] Jamie [Sharper] is making the tackles he should make, which keeps the ball from rolling to the next level [of the defense].

"I can't say [Herring] has done good or bad," Lewis added. "He's doing the best he can do. I think he's getting better with each week. I think we're consistently seeing some improvement."

Herring, who missed half of last season with a shoulder injury -- he had surgery last December -- said he was bothered by shoulder soreness early in the season, but not anymore.

As for his performance, Herring said: "It could be worse, it could be better. I think I can make more plays. But also, in the first six games, not too many teams have thrown down the middle on us. And when you've got [middle linebacker] Ray [Lewis] and Jamie making all the tackles, there's no tackles for the defensive backs to make."

Moore, 5-11, 210, lacks Herring's ability to cover, but one thing the 11-year veteran can still do is tackle. For six straight years starting in 1993, Moore finished in the franchise's top three in tackles. In 1998, less than a year removed from reconstructive surgery on both knees, he recorded 96 tackles, third-highest on the team.

"I know when I'm on the field, I can be physical," said Moore, who has three special teams tackles this year. "I've got respect from my opponents all over this league. They know my ability. There are still 10 games left, a lot of football left to be played. It's going to be tough and physical down the stretch.

"I really miss it. I'll be ready if I'm called upon again."

Said Lewis: "What we're looking for [at safety] are guys with the ability to cover and guys who can put the other guy on the ground. We'd like to use Stevon more. He adds a bigger guy who brings a good temperament to the huddle and is a very good tackler. Stevon has got to keep playing. He can add something."

NOTES: Defensive end Michael McCrary has gone three straight games without a sack, marking his longest drought since joining the Ravens in 1997. McCrary is fourth on the team with 34 tackles. Punter Kyle Richardson leads the NFL with 20 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Richardson set a team record a year ago with 25 punts inside the 20, and he is on a pace to record 53 this season. He is fourth in the AFC with a net average of 37.4 yards. The Ravens have been outscored in the second and fourth quarters by a combined 88-40. The Ravens have intercepted three passes (two by Chris McAlister, one by Ray Lewis) and have been intercepted 10 times. Buffalo quarterback Doug Flutie is a native of Manchester, Md.

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Buffalo Bills

Site: PSINet Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Series: First meeting

Tickets: Sold out

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