The Saints led the NFL in points and yards last year without having all hands on deck. Specifically, they were missing their best pair of hands.
After a breakthrough 2008 season, wide receiver Lance Moore sat out nine games with hamstring and ankle injuries and never was totally healthy. Renowned for catching almost everything thrown his way, he is back to full strength at training camp and eager to erase the frustration of a bittersweet season.
While New Orleans won the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, his number of catches plummeted from a team-high 79 in 2008 to 14.
“It would have to be (bittersweet),” he said Tuesday. “I’m a competitor. Obviously I wanted to be out there, but I’m back now and definitely planning to contribute a lot.”
Last year, offseason shoulder surgery limited Moore’s conditioning entering training camp, and, in his mind, led to his leg injuries.
This time, he has worn out defensive backs since practice started.
“Going against somebody who is just as hot as he is right now just makes you that much better,” seven-year veteran cornerback Randall Gay said. “You get frustrated. You’re covering him, you feel like you’re doing a great job and he’s coming up with play after play.”
It is reminiscent of 2008, when Moore morphed from a part-time player to Drew Brees’ go-to target after wideout Marques Colston got hurt. His 79 receptions were 27 more than the Saints’ No. 2 receiver, Reggie Bush. He had 928 receiving yards, 135 more than any teammate. His 10 touchdown catches were twice as many as anyone else.
Although the offense was dominant while he sat out last year, his absence had an effect. The Saints converted 43.7 percent of their third downs, a drop from 48.5 in 2008, when Brees usually looked his way because of his reliability.
“He’ll go six weeks in the season before he makes a mental error,” coach Sean Payton said. “He has very good quick feet in transition. He’s a big part of what we do.”
Moore proved he could stick in the NFL despite his small stature (5-9) by catching 32 passes in 2007 after spending two years on the Saints practice squad. He showed he could be a star with his breakout performance in 2008.
Now he is just happy to be healthy.
“It feels amazing,” he said. “I haven’t really felt this good for probably over a year now.”
Even hobbling, Moore made an impact in the Saints’ Super Bowl victory over Indianapolis. The Saints gambled by activating him for the playoffs even though he did not play in the last eight regular season games, and he rewarded their trust with a diving grab for a 2-point conversion to give them a 24-17 lead in the fourth quarter.
The play, initially ruled incomplete when an official ruled Moore was juggling the ball, was overturned by replay. The referees should have known Moore holds on to anything he touches.
He attributes his hands to the discipline and hand-eye coordination he learned taking karate as a kid. His father owned a martial arts studio in Columbus, Ohio, and Moore became a black belt by age 10.
“I don’t want to just play as well as I did in 2008,” he said. “I want to be as good as I can possibly be, and I can definitely play better than I did that year.”
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