ALAMEDA -- Sio Moore believes he’s an every-down linebacker. The Raiders project him as one. Just not now.
Moore subs out during the nickel package, leaving him out during most passing downs. His snap count varies wildly from week to week, from the majority to a precious few.
The third-round pick can consequently count pass-rush opportunities on two hands, which has been strange for a player with 14.5 sacks his last two seasons at Connecticut. It was the case on Sunday against Kansas City, but Moore made the most of his opportunities.
He flushed the pocket four times in seven tries, including his first professional sack on the game's first snap. He bull rushed No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, knocked the tackle off balance and took the quarterback down.
That's a marked improvement. According to Pro Football Focus, Moore had just two quarterback hits and a hurry in four previous games.
“That was the best game that he’s played,” Raiders defensive coordinator Jason Tarver said. “He's just got to keep that arrow going up. But, he's starting to do some things that we thought he could do -- using his hands and setting edges. And that's what he needs to do to be consistent.”
Consistency is key to keeping Moore on the field, but he hasn't picked the lock. Moore's potential is being hampered by the typical rookie learning curve, when technical skill and playing speed increase with game experience.
The rotation is a bit different than what Moore expected during training camp, when he practiced with the starting 11 early on.
“It's not frustrating. It's about doing my role,” Moore said. “When my number is called, I'll be ready. I understand that, to a capacity, I do play an important role here. Wherever my piece fits in the grand scheme, I'm happy. The biggest thing is to keep working and have them trust that I can be a game changer.”
Tarver needs to see the little things done right. Tarver wants Moore to play faster, to shed blocks with his hands and avoid biting on quarterback fakes.
“Sio needs to do a better job of taking his course and going as fast as he can,” Tarver said. “Obviously on the first play of the game this week, he got to the quarterback on the first play of the game and wrapped him up, that was nice, his first sack. Sio needs to be consistent in setting edges, using his hands in the game, and not overreacting too fast. He's very instinctive and he can move in space.”
The potential is there. No one denies that. The coaching would like to see him focus more on trying to harness it. Moore is a prankster at heart, locker-room jester who keeps things light. He’s first man trying to fire up Raider Nation, to coax loud from the Oakland Coliseum crowd. Big plays, however, work better than unprompted antics.
Moore is starting to understand that.
“I've noticed over the last couple of weeks a little difference in his demeanor and his work ethic and his practice habits -- the way he prepares for the game,” head coach Dennis Allen said. “I think some of that is showing up on game day. If he continues to learn how to prepare like a pro and work like a pro then you'll continue to see the progress out of him.”
Sunday's effort showed improvement, and it may earn more snaps on passing downs.
“Sio is progressing and getting better,” Allen said. “I think the one area where we probably need to get him a little more work and give him a few more opportunities is in the nickel. That will give him a chance to rush the passer a little bit more.”
Moore will take any snap he can get, hopefully making more plays in the process. He has just six tackles in five games, but he believes he'll be in better position to do so with improved detail work.
“I feel like I’ve made steady progress,” Moore said. “The player I was in Week 1 is better than the guy who went through training camp. The player I am after Week 6 is better than the player I was when the season started. I feel likeI’ve grown and gotten a lot smarter. That in-game experience has helped, and now I want to make the right turn into the second half of the season, so there are less errors and more big plays.”