Every single season, on every single team in the NFL, there is a player who comes out and exceeds the expectations that were set for him heading into camp. Some are undrafted rookies who end up making the team. Others are draft picks who claim a starting spot ahead of a proven veteran. Some are veteran players themselves, who after a year or two in the league, have finally taken that next step in their maturation process.
Yet, for every surprise, their is equal disappointment.
Some players regress after a strong rookie campaign. Others never reach the level of their innate ability.
This is a story about a late bloomer, who by all accounts, was written off by many this season as a contributor to our new-look offensive line. This story is "Becoming Morgan Moses".
Becoming Morgan Moses:
The first chapter begins during Morgan's junior season at the University of Virginia. The massive right tackle was part of a very good line in Charlottsville. He, however, was playing second fiddle to the more heralded left tackle Oday Aboushi, who was tasked with being a blindside protector. Moses' play was up and down as a junior. He would show glimpses of his raw talent, but also show lapses where NFL scouts could see he was a project at the next level. His feet looked rather slow, his hand punch lacked conviction, and his balance bordered on clumsiness.
Fast forward to 2013. In chapter two, Moses was moved to left tackle as a senior, and his play on the field showed vast improvement. He looked much more comfortable on the left side where he could use his long arms to keep defenders at bay. Still, there were issues with his feet, which at times looked like they were stuck in concrete. To make matters worse, Morgan was a classic waist-bender. A waist-bender is a term scouts give to offensive linemen who typically lack foot quickness and technique, but use their physical traits(such as long arms) to mask these deficiencies by "lunging" towards a defender, instead of setting up in their stance with their hips over the balls of their feet, and firing their hands in conjunction with their base-steps, all while being reactive to a defensive player's moves. Morgan "fooled" some of the Draftniks, including ESPN's Todd McShay, who pegged him as a mid first round pick, and mocked him to the Dolphins at 17 overall. Moses was invited to attend the draft in NYC, but sat for two days until being selected in the third round of the 2014 draft by the Washington Redskins. Many fans felt we got a first round talent at a discounted price, but most saw the deficiencies, and understood we drafted a project at offensive tackle.
Chapter three begins when a large, semi-sloppy lump of clay enters training camp in Richmond Virginia. The Morgan Moses experiment was under way. The staff quickly tried to integrate Moses at right tackle, but there was much work to do before he was even remotely close to gaining meaning snaps for this football team. Even though incumbent right tackle Tyler Polumbus was highly ineffective, Moses was worse. The slow feet, the sloppy set-up, and the waist-bending were evident. To make matters worse, Moses' current body type was not conducive for the pure zone blocking scheme that offensive line coach Chris Foerster was running in DC. Moses struggled mightily as a rookie, playing sparingly. He played in 8 games, logging one start(at left tackle). When All-Pro Trent Williams went down with an injury against Tampa Bay, Moses was inserted at left tackle. He showed why he was a project in that game against the Bucs, but it was the following week, when he started against the 49ers, that his weaknesses were truly exposed. Moses was a human blocking dummy against San Francisco's pass rush, looking much more like the rookie NFL scouts saw, than the player once projected to go in the middle of the first round. His embarrassing performance left Redskins fans longing for the days of Stephon Heyer.
With just three games left in a lost season, the coaching staff had hopes of seeing some more from their young players. Both Moses and fellow rookie Spencer Long were two players the staff hoped to get some meaningful snaps late in the season, but before that could come to fruition, Moses, while doing offensive line drills, suffered the dreaded lisfranc injury. He was placed on season ending IR on December 11th, and underwent surgery to repair the injury. A disappointing rookie season had abruptly come to an end.
Chaper four - "A New Hope", begins immediately when the Redskins hired Bill Callahan to replace the ineffective Chirs Foerster as the new offensive line coach. Callahan is known throughout NFL circles as an "offensive linemen whisperer". Besides a few new coaching changes, the Redskins also brought in new GM Scot McCloughan. McCloughan is know to have a keen eye for young talent, and also brought with him a mentality of big, tough and nasty in the type of players he liked to acquire. With his first selection as GM of the Redskins in the 2015 NFL draft, Scot selected All-American offensive linemen Brandon Scherff out of Iowa. It was expected that Scherff would become am immediate plug-and-play right tackle for Bill Callahan, but Morgan Moses had other ideas!
It had been about seven months since Moses had undergone surgery for his lisfranc injury, so entering training camp, he was no more than an afterthought. Many predicted that Moses would start the season on the PUP list, with hopes that he could become active, and contribute as a reserve, sometime during the regular season. Some suggested a move to the interior for the 6-6 318 pound giant. Instead, Moses came into camp with a clean bill of health, a newly transformed body(he now looked much more defined), and a tough-guy mentality. Under the tutelage of Callahan, Moses set out to prove he belonged; not only as an NFL offensive linemen, but as the starting right tackle for the Washington Redskins.
And prove it he did! By the third preseason game, it was apparent that Morgan Moses has "turned the corner". He came out and had himself one hell of a training camp. There were absolutely no lingering issues from his prior injury. In fact, Moses looked like a completely different player. His solid play during camp had forced the move of Brandon Scherff to right guard, a position many felt he could become an All-Pro at. In my opinion, Moses was the best offensive linemen on the field during the preseason. What a pleasant surprise this was for Redskins fans!
Morgan's solid play has spilled over into the regular season. He has been outstanding so far in both run blocking and pass protection. He has shown tremendous growth in his technique. His feet and overall balance have vastly improved. He no longer "lunges" at defenders, instead relying on his feet to get him into the right position, and his hands to stone a defenders moves. He has become much more patient in his pass set-up, and shows discipline when countering his man's first move. In the run game, he is staying much lower, and using power from his hips to move his defender. He does an excellent job blocking in space, and leading on sweeps(evident in the Saints game)and screens. He also seems to be playing with a bit of an attitude. He has been transformed from a Gentle Giant, into a Mean Mauler.
The final chapter of "Becoming Morgan Moses" has yet to be written. His play to this point of the season has been close to Pro Bowl level. With even more seasoning, the sky is the limit for a player who many, including myself, felt may be a 2-3 year project, and a mere serviceable one at that.
Man, it feels good to be wrong!