Kellen Moore making most of winning gene in battle for Lions' backup job
DETROIT -- Ah, the proverbial "it" factor. Used in sports lingo the way that conspiracy theorists might offer "Well, how else do you explain ..." arguments for crop circles or sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, the "it" factor is the easiest way to cut to the chase when an athlete continues to deliver above and beyond what he should be able to produce.
So perhaps there is no use trying to figure out how exactly Kellen Moore, pushing six feet tall on a good day and with perhaps the weakest arm of any current NFL quarterback, won more games in college than anyone before or after him. Or how he managed to overcome a ghastly red-zone fumble in the Detroit Lions preseason opener on Saturday night to drop an absolute dime into Corey Fuller's hands for a game-winning touchdown.
We already have the answer, vague as it may be.
"[He] just has that 'it,'" Lions starting quarterback Matthew Stafford said following his team's 13-12 preseason win over Cleveland, a game in which that late Moore-to-Fuller strike was the lone touchdown scored.
"He's got that 'it' factor," new Detroit offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi told SI of Moore following a training camp practice last week. "He's got a way of figuring out how to get a team into the end zone and win games."
Moore shattered records in the state of Washington during his high school career. Playing for his father, Tom, at Prosser High School, Moore completed 787 passes and tossed 173 touchdowns as a prep. His four years at Boise State turned him into an Idaho legend -- Moore still has a home in Boise, works out at the school during the offseason and is swarmed by fans whenever he ventures out in public.
Moore posted an astounding 50-3 record for the Broncos, including a win at Oregon in his third career game; victories over Virginia Tech and Georgia to open the 2011 and '12 seasons, respectively; and a Fiesta Bowl triumph over TCU to cap a 14-0 season in 2009. To put that win total in perspective, recent Bengals draft pick A.J. McCarron, a two-time BCS national champion as a starter, finished his Alabama career with 36 victories. And if Florida State's reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, ran the table again in 2014, he still would need another 23 collegiate victories to match Moore.
That success -- more than anything on his scouting report -- earned Moore an NFL shot.
"We really liked him when we were in New Orleans because he had won ... 50-3 as a starter or something crazy. That matters," said Lombardi, who left the Saints for Detroit this offseason. "[He is] super smart, gets the ball out, he's not going to take sacks. He's going to do what you want in your offense, and that goes a long way."
Not far enough, mind you, for Moore to actually hear his name called in the draft. McCarron slipped, too, despite all those Alabama victories, finally coming off the board at pick No. 163 overall.
"It's a difficult process, you never really know," Moore said. "The biggest thing is just to get to a team, get an opportunity. Once you're here, it's on you."
Three preseasons and two coaching staffs removed from signing in Detroit, Moore might finally be ready to climb higher than the No. 3 spot on the quarterback depth chart. He was tucked away there for all of 2012 and '13 behind Stafford and former backup Shaun Hill, who is now Sam Bradford's safety net in St. Louis. But he outplayed Hill's projected replacement, Dan Orlovsky, in Saturday's game: Moore was 11-of-13 for 121 yards plus the TD pass (and the fumble); Orlovsky was 12-of-23 for 89 yards, a measly 3.9 yards-per-attempt rate.
Granted, most of Orlovsky's work came against the first- and second-teamers of the Cleveland defense, while Moore operated against players considered long shots to make the roster. But he got the job done.
"It's something we'll look at and just see," Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said about the possibility of using Moore earlier in upcoming preseason games. "He functioned pretty well, I think, in the situation that he was in."
Presumably, Moore would love to win the gig behind Stafford. Good luck getting him to admit it.
With his shaggy hair and boyish half-grin, the former Boise State star seems more likely to ask for an extra scoop of sprinkles on his vanilla ice cream than he does to answer any questions with even a hint of arrogance or bravado.
Is he the No. 2 quarterback on this team?
"No idea. No idea," Moore said, standing in front of his locker on Saturday night. "Obviously, Dan's been doing this for a long time. He's had a lot of success in this league, he's a guy I'm continuing to learn from and it's awesome to have him here."
Because of the weaknesses in his game, his lack of arm strength first and foremost among them, Moore may never find himself fighting for a starting role in the NFL. However, the previous Lions regime under Jim Schwartz kept Moore around because of how well he processes the game, how sharp he is with the X's and O's. This also is a Lions team that for years and years has been knocked because of its inability to secure a winner's mentality.
If nothing else, Moore has that.
"It's not the primary factor by any stretch," Lombardi said. "He's not 6-4 and he doesn't have an arm that can throw it 80 yards but he gets it done.
"There's that 'it' factor."
And "it" may be enough.