After spending some post-practice time with a group of underprivileged kids during last week's development camp, Mewelde Moore began walking back toward the Vikings' Winter Park building. He took off his football gloves and threw them over his shoulder, at which time the kids went wild in grabbing whatever they could off the ground.
If only Moore would have dove to the ground to recover a fumble last year, he might never have surrounded the job as the Vikings' feature back.
In his last start as a Viking on Oct. 31, 2004, Moore tried to catch a pass from quarterback Daunte Culpepper, and when he failed to catch the lateral, the Giants fell on the ball at the Vikings 22-yard line. New York took an early 3-0 lead off that mistake and went on to a 34-13 win.
It was only the second loss in seven games and the beginning of a three-game losing streak and an uneven second half of the season.
"When you turn the ball over in this league, you don't win," head coach Mike Tice said after that game. "We had turnovers and set them up with a short field too often. That worked against us all day."
That one fumble without an effort to recover it worked against Moore the rest of the season.
"I was in the doghouse with that one, definitely," Moore said. "It was a great learning experience for me. I take everything positive. I don't look at too many things negatively, so it was a positive learning experience for me. I know if (a lateral is mishandled), jump on it no matter what. That was one of those rookie things, where you never even thought it was a lateral. But those things, you move on, you learn from them, you forgive yourself. You don't think about it, but you don't forget it because you want to make sure you don't make the same mistake again.
"You're asked to make plays, so you've got to make plays."
Besides that learning experience, Moore's rookie season was a pretty impressive display of being opportunistic.
With Michael Bennett inactive for the first five games and Onterrio Smith finally giving way to a four-game suspension after playing the first three games, Moore became an instant starter in the fourth week of the 2004 regular season. He started two games, played the majority of the third and made his third start against the Giants.
But after his early-game fumble and an injury later in that contest, Moore was out of the rotation.
"I was ready to play (for the) Jacksonville game (four weeks later), but there was no room. That basically set me out two games," he said.
He returned to play sparingly in the final four games of the regular season, getting only one rush in those games. The same held true in the playoffs, where he rushed once for no gain in Minnesota's season-ending loss to Philadelphia.
"I played with and without Randy (Moss) and the numbers didn't really change. They stayed pretty constant," he said. "I know I can play here. It's just a question of when, where and how."
It's true. He proved over a four-game stretch that he can be productive when given the opportunity. He rushed for 92, 109, 138 and 29 yards, respectively, in those four games and added 90, 78, 30 and 26 yards in receiving over that span.
"I'm confident in myself. I'm assured of doing everything I know I'm capable of doing," he said.
Right now, Moore says he's just concentrating on being strong spiritually and in the mind and maintaining his physical strength.
He enters June as the second-string running back behind injury-prone Michael Bennett. Before Smith's expected year-long suspension became public, Moore was feeling the crowded atmosphere as the third back, but he continued a positive outlook even then.
"You come with the understanding that there is a lot of guys. There are just so many guys, even if you would give everybody an equal amount of touches, you are still feeling like you play a quarter of a season. It's not necessarily tough, but we just have to deal with it," he said before Smith's suspension became public. "We definitely have to play together and be a team and do what you have to do."
Moore could remain the No. 2 back heading into training camp, just one Bennett injury away from another opportunity as a starter, or he could end up another rung down the ladder if the Vikings sign a free-agent running back in the next two months.
Either way, Moore has been able to maintain a good relationship with the other running backs despite the crowded competition.
"I think we're all competitors no matter what. Everybody plays their game," he said. "They're not necessarily trying to go out and show somebody up. We practice together, we play together. We go by Moe's house, chill out, or Pepp's house. We have the No. 1 common goal, and that's winning."
He said Tice told the running backs early in the offseason that the job is up for grabs. Since, Tice has said Bennett is making that competition "pretty much a joke" with his impressive minicamp and development camp.
Whether it is Bennett, Moore or a back to be named later that assumes the starting role, Moore's philosophy remains the same.
"Being prepared is the best policy, hands-down," he said. "Always taking care of yourself is the No. 1 thing that keeps you here – keeps you here long and keeps you in the rankings."
Moore's Outlook Remains Unchanged
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