By Jason Seidling
Coach Mike Tomlin may have left college football for the NFL in 2001, but Mewelde Moore's decision to sign with the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent shows he hasn't lost his skills as a recruiter.
"Coach Tomlin is the main reason that I am here because I know exactly what he stands for, and I am familiar with his philosophy," Moore said about why he left the Minnesota Vikings after four seasons to sign with the Steelers on March 3.
Moore and Tomlin were together for just one season with the Vikings, that being in 2006 when Tomlin served as the team's defensive coordinator. Tomlin's upbeat nature was what impressed Moore the most, and it was a significant factor in his decision to choose a new employer.
"Once my agent and (the Steelers) came together, I was like 'let's go'" said Moore. "I was very happy when I found out that they came calling."
The Steelers were equally happy. During his four seasons with the Vikings, Moore started some games at tailback, he was a third-down back, a punt returner and a kickoff returner. What Tomlin refers to as "position flexibility" is what made Moore an attractive option to the Steelers during free agency.
"(Moore) is a guy who is capable of doing a lot of things to help us win," Tomlin said when Moore was signed. "He has a reputable resume as a punt returner, he is kickoff return capable, and he's a running back who has unique skill sets in that he has very good hands out of the backfield. He has things that are potentially attractive to us. The details of his role will be etched out, but one thing I know about this guy is that he's willing to do whatever it takes to help the Pittsburgh Steelers win. That's what is most important."
A No. 4 pick by the Vikings in 2004, Moore led the team in rushing with 662 yards on 155 carries (4.3 average) in 2005, and he finished his career there with four 100-yard games. Moore, however, never cracked the starting lineup on a full-time basis and first found himself playing behind Chester Taylor, and by the end of 2007 he also was behind reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson.
Even though Moore was not receiving the bulk of the carries, he was still a major contributor because he developed into a solid third-down back, reflected by his 116 career receptions for 1,093 yards (9.4 average). Moore also flourished as a punt returner, and he set the Vikings' career mark with a 10.4-yard average.
"I'm fine with returning kicks and everything," said Moore. "I have no problem with it because I love touching the ball and having it in my hands. I feel like (having the ball) is a precious moment, and you need to seize the moment every time you get a chance to touch that ball."
With Ben Roethlisberger having been sacked 47 times last season, Tomlin thinks Moore's receiving skills should help alleviate some of the pressure put on his Pro Bowl quarterback by providing a dependable receiving option out of the backfield.
"Giving him an additional viable option like Mewelde, who is capable of breaking down linebackers and catching the ball, is going to help," said Tomlin.
Moore agreed with what his new boss' assessment and also went further with his own self analysis on how he might help the Steelers on the field in 2008.
"(My skills include) a combination of things, such as being very consistent and productive, and doing whatever is asked in terms of performing in down-and-distance situations. Anytime a play is afforded to you, you want to make sure you give it your best effort to make the play that gives your team the surge, like moving the chains and taking care of the football – the little things late in the game that give your team the chance to win."
The statistics speak for themselves when it comes to Moore's dependability. Of his 380 career offensive touches, Moore has generated a first down on 26 percent of them (98). He also knows how to secure the football, with only six fumbles – two of them lost – in four seasons.
With almost three full months as a part of the Steelers' organization, Moore senses a commitment to winning in Pittsburgh that validates his decision to sign with the team as an unrestricted free agent.
"There was instant camaraderie here where guys are focused on making everybody better and pulling everybody together," said Moore. "It's really fun, and I'm enjoying it."
That's exactly how Tomlin described the environment to Moore when he was making his recruiting pitch back in March.
"He let me know what I could expect here," Moore said of Tomlin. "Everything he told me has proven to be true, about the city, the people and my teammates. I am really happy."
One of the qualities that has allowed the Steelers to be what Tomlin described to Moore is the willingness of the veterans to counsel the young guys. Now that Moore is becoming more comfortable with his new team, he's eager to share what he has learned about being a professional with No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall.
"Once these kids get here it really is our job to help make sure that we mentor them when they ask us things," Moore said of assisting Mendenhall. "(We) just give them advice about what they should be looking forward to and what they should and should not do."
And so, Mewelde Moore now has an opportunity to help the Steelers continue to be what attracted him to the organization in the first place.