- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
It's a familiar NFL
tale: Fading star who dogged it or drugged it or talked his way out of one town
gets reborn in another, earning one last chance to erase his past and show
that, really, he's been a winner all along. The latest protagonist is wide
receiver Randy Moss, who, after two unproductive years with the woeful Oakland
Raiders, has a new lease on life with the three-time champion New England
At 2 a.m. on April 29 coach Bill Belichick called Moss in Houston and informed him that he would have to accept a $6.25�million reduction in his $9.25�million base salary and undergo a physical in Boston within 10 hours if he wanted to be a Patriot. Moss immediately agreed to the pay cut and hired a private plane to rush him to New England. He also changed two weeks of personal plans for early May so that he could attend the Pats' off-season program, though he was not ordered to do so by Belichick. At New England's Organized Team Activities--practices without pads that NFL teams hold each spring-- Moss felt he was lagging in conditioning drills, so when the Patriots took the last week of May off, he stayed in Foxborough for four days of aerobic work.
Last week, at the Patriots' minicamp, Moss snagged passes from quarterback Tom Brady before one practice, bouncing around on the balls of his feet, simulating game action by catching the ball and tucking it in while other receivers nonchalantly warmed up. "Juices startin' to flow!" he said to Brady. "Oh, yeah!"
The quarterback was impressed. "On the second day of OTAs," Brady said at the close of minicamp, "Randy goes to run a crossing route. He sprints up the field and starts to make his cut across the field when I throw it. I'm aiming for a window between two linebackers, but it's not a perfect throw. It's going to be a tough catch to make. And here comes Randy, diving for the ball to come up with the catch. Here's this 6' 4'', 210-pound guy in shorts and no pads, diving for a ball in an OTA practice in the middle of May. Who does that? I'm standing back there thinking, Wow. This guy wants it."
That's not the guy Oakland saw last year, when Moss cut his routes short, criticized the offense and had just 42 catches and three touchdowns, both career lows. The losses-- Oakland was an NFL-worst 6-26 in 2005 and '06--and a balky ankle and knee didn't help his spirits, nor did offensive coordinator Tom Walsh's system. Brought out of retirement by new coach Art Shell, Walsh installed a passing attack based largely on option routes, in which the receiver chooses one of two or three predetermined patterns depending on the coverage. Every NFL team runs some of these, but because they take time to develop, their popularity has declined precipitously in the face of pressure packages.
"We all knew it was the wrong system for our team," says Mike Lombardi, the Oakland senior personnel executive who was fired by the Raiders last month. Oakland was 31st in the NFL in passing offense, with seven TDs, fewest since Cincinnati's six in 2000. "Running mostly option routes with a new quarterback like [Aaron] Brooks with a big windup, a big strider like Randy, who doesn't change directions quickly, and a sieve of an offensive line--that's a lethal combination," says retired wideout Cris Carter, Moss's former Vikings teammate.
Lombardi, Cleveland's pro personnel director during Belichick's tenure with the Browns in the 1990s, was one of a few people the New England coach called when fact-finding about Moss. Lombardi told him Moss would play hard and play well. "This is a steal," Lombardi said last week, "a home run. Randy's not about making his money. He's about trying to get his credibility back."
Moss started with a strategically placed locker at Gillette Stadium--deep in the back, between Brady and nonroster veteran quarterback Vinny Testaverde. "That's where some butterflies came in," Moss says of the new environs. He was issued jersey number 6--he wore 84 in Minnesota and 18 in Oakland--because there was nothing in the 80s available when he arrived and because he truly doesn't care what's on his back. "Just give me a number," he told an equipment man. "I'll make the number."