Lions gush over 'underestimated' special-teams standout C.J. Moore

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Given the emphasis of team over individual in the game of football, it's become increasingly unusual for a coach to publicly compliment or criticize a specific player without being directly asked.

So, it was a little surprising when Detroit Lions special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs gushed, unprompted, about the attitude and performance of second-year safety C.J. Moore during a Sunday afternoon video conference. 

C.J. Moore emerged from an undrafted rookie to become a special-teams standout last season for the Lions.

"That would be a guy that I am very, very excited with, excited for and really proud of," Coombs said. "Just the way he handled everything. The way he approaches everything on a daily basis. We have a team of 53 guys like that? We'd be in great shape. There's a lot of other guys I could rattle off, but a guy that's really stood out in camp as one of our best players would be C.J."

Wrapped in that praise for Moore, Coombs also offered a mea culpa, acknowledging he underestimated the young defensive back's abilities after being hired by the Lions this offseason

"To be perfectly frank, (he) is a guy I probably underestimated coming in as a new coach," Coombs said. "Probably, I was just wrong on, just going off of the tape and my perception of him coming in. Has really kind of took the bull by the horns. Guy had multiple tackles as a gunner last year, was a starting gunner."

At the start of training camp, Coombs acknowledged he moved Moore off that gunner role — the widest man on a punt coverage formation — and put him in the backfield as a protector for the punter. Not only that, Coombs made Moore the backup for that job. 

That's the kind of demotion that could easily negatively impact a player's attitude, particularly one fighting for a job, but Coombs said Moore embraced the challenge. 

"He never complained," Coombs said. "He never tried to convince me he was best where he was. Just really embraced it, dove in head first. Wore me and (long snapper Don Muhlbach) out, just learning the protection aspect of playing that position. Did a great job, has really earned everything he's getting right now in terms of playing time and opportunities."

Moore made Detroit's roster as an undrafted rookie last season and made an instant impact on special teams. His 322 snaps with those units were the third-most on the roster, behind only Dee Virgin and Miles Killebrew. Defensively, Moore had a smaller role, playing 76 snaps.

Following the additions of Duron Harmon and Jayron Kearse this offseason, paired with the returns of former third-round picks Tracy Walker and Will Harris, it was unclear how Moore would fit into the depth chart. But with Kearse heading for a three-game suspension to start the season, having caught the attention of Coombs in such an impactful way should only help Moore's odds.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers