ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Rookie safety Rahim Moore has always admired Brian Dawkins’ hard-hitting game from afar, even carrying a picture of the Pro Bowler in his wallet for inspiration while he was at UCLA.
Now, Moore carries Dawkins’ shoulder pads after the Denver Broncos’ practices as he studies the venerable veteran from a much closer vantage point.
Moore tries to mimic every move the player he calls “Pops” makes on the field: How Dawkins reads a play, when he creeps closer to the line of scrimmage, how he attacks the ball.
Only, Moore can’t constantly keep his eyes on him. He is, after all, starting alongside Dawkins already.
It’s been quite a path for the former Bruins standout who was drafted by Denver in the second round last spring. His father wasn’t around when he was growing up, and football provided him an escape from the poverty and tough streets of his L.A. neighborhood.
And while Dawkins has always been his inspiration on the field, Moore’s mother, Nowana Buchanan, has always provided the motivation off of it.
That’s why his first purchase wasn’t a spiffy sports car or an elaborate house, but a diamond necklace with a heart attached for his mom. It was a thank-you for all those hours she put in at a bank while he was growing up.
She was at her son’s first preseason game in Dallas last week and Moore caught a glimpse of her, teary-eyed in the stands.
“She says she wasn’t crying, but I saw her,” Moore chuckled. “I saw the tears.”
And he understood.
“We’ve been through a lot. We’ve struggled. Now, she can have breakfast in bed, take milk baths, go to masseuses for five or six hours,” Moore said. “She’s the only person I felt I owed something.”
His dad wasn’t in the picture, clearing out when Moore was a little boy. But before his father left, he offered Moore advice he’s never forgotten.
“He told me, `Athletes don’t drink or smoke. Athletes don’t put nothing in their bodies to jeopardize their performance and make them worse,”‘ Moore recounted. “That’s the only thing I’ve taken from him. That was the best advice.”
The affable Moore is a workout maven. He hits the weights, jumps rope 10 minutes a day — usually out of view of his teammates after practice — and does extra sprints on the turf. That stems back to his younger days, when he would channel all his frustration into working out — just to reach this point.
Moore has quickly grasped the pro game and is one of three rookies who’s already earned a starting job.
Then again, he figured he would.
“It’s not a cocky thing, it’s just expectations I have in myself,” Moore said. “Who wants to sit on the bench? I’m not surprised. When you’re surprised, it makes it seem like you haven’t been there before.”
The 21-year-old Moore had a stellar career for the Bruins. A safety with a nose for the ball, he finished his college career with 14 interceptions and received all sorts of accolades.
That’s partly due to his dissection of Dawkins’ game.
Moore keeps a photo of Dawkins in his wallet, along with others on his laptop. Moore also has a video of Dawkins that he watches to psyche himself up: A shot of the 37-year-old strong safety doing his frenzied and feverish dance moves before a game in his Philadelphia heyday.
“What makes him so great is he loves what he does. He takes his craft very seriously,” Moore said. “He’s a great guy to mimic, copy and follow. They always say you should never be a follower, but you’ve got to follow that guy.”
The respect is mutual.
Dawkins has been impressed with the play of Moore and fellow rookie safety Quinton Carter, a fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma. Dawkins has been taking them under his wing, which is simply his way of giving back to the game as he enters his 16th NFL season.
“I always will be who I am as far as being able to be open to teaching players as much as they’re able to learn from it,” Dawkins said. “That won’t change.”
Moore has already had his “welcome to the NFL” moment, getting beat by Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd on a long pass from Kyle Orton in training camp.
“Beat me bad,” Moore said, shaking his head. “I realized it’s tough here.”
And sometimes he needed to stick up for himself. Moore recently got into a scuffle with Lloyd. He didn’t back down from the veteran, either.
Moore’s moxie earned him a measure of respect with his teammates.
“I like to see that,” linebacker Joe Mays said. “He’s a smart guy. All of our rookies are smart; they’re tough, physical and fast. Once they put it all together, we’re going to be fine.”
For Moore, going toe-to-toe with Lloyd wasn’t so much about machismo as saving face.
“It’s like boxing. When you get knocked down on your butt, what are you going to do?” said Moore, who has since patched things up with Lloyd. “That’s how I was brought up: Anybody hits you, you defend yourself.
“In that circumstance, it’s not defending yourself, it’s standing up for yourself.”
Just like Dawkins would.