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Husky Hard Knocks: Sio Moore

Here is part six of our new series that will highlight the seven former Huskies about to enter their first NFL training camps this summer. Each day we’ll evaluate a single player’s individual prospects, likely fit with their new team and position competition. Today, we continue with Sio Moore, who was selected in the third round of this year’s draft by the Oakland Raiders.

Sio Moore was pissed off.

He had just been taken 66th overall in the NFL Draft, handed financial security and given a promising career beginning.

There aren’t any Oakland Raider jokes coming here—Sio Moore was just plain pissed off.

Following his selection in April, Moore was on a conference call with local media. Over the phone, he described the hard-fought path he took even after his collegiate career ended, which included earning his way into the most prestigious post-season college all-star game, the Senior Bowl, after shining in a lesser event. He talked about working on special teams, playing with remarkable passion and the call that changed his life forever.

Then, he had an announcement to make.

Sio Moore was pissed off.

You see, in Moore’s wide, feverish brown eyes, he is the best linebacker to have recently entered the NFL from the 2013 draft class. Yet, ten teams apparently disagreed, when they picked nearly a dozen other ‘backers ahead of him. To be fair, from Moore’s point of view, it’s difficult to understand.

He registered top five at the combine amongst all linebackers in the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap and broad jump. He racked up an incredible 44 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and four interceptions over his UConn career. Moore even played defensive end, safety in addition to a little cornerback while at Rentschler Field—and successfully, too.

So, why was he passed over by so many clubs?

We’ll likely never know. To say the Liberian native should definitively have been selected in the first round or even top 3 for those at his position is a bit ludicrous. However, there is something we can say that isn’t farfetched at all:

Sio Moore will be an NFL starting linebacker someday.

There is more doubt to the sun rising tomorrow or Pit Bull standing and doing nothing in his next commercial than there is in that statement.

Moore’s physical ability is undeniable, and the holes present in his game add up to roughly the same amount you’ll find in a shot put. In fact, here are said holes: He’s slightly smaller than the ideal outside linebacker (p.s. Moore’s put on about 15 pounds since last September). Also, he needs to become more consistent in his ability to shed blocks. Improvement in this area comes about by adding weight (check) and improving hand technique.

The rest of any scouting report on the All Big East first-team linebacker will tell you primarily about his explosive athleticism. Moore possesses both superb short-area agility and sideline-to-sideline speed, which he once used to capably cover this year’s eighth overall pick, former West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin (who runs a 4.3 40-yard dash). His cover skills aren’t limited strictly to man coverage, however, as he’s equally adept at dropping into a zone.

Moreover, the rookie boasts a versatile, effective pass rush, which can come either as a posing defensive end or imposing, blitzing linebacker. His pressure presents mostly in the form of a speed rush, although he has been known to extend his long arms into larger linemen and drive them back. Moore also tackles extremely well, both from a technique and sheer power standpoint. He racked up over 270 stops over his career, including 15 and a half for a loss during his senior campaign.

Of course, Moore doesn’t become as versatile as they’re made and so productive in college solely with athleticism. He’s done it with discipline in regards to his assignments and off-field work ethic, which has afforded him impressive physical ability and football acumen.

Now, it’s important to note that all of these qualities, barring injury, should translate to the Oakland Raiders, but in time. The question is how long will that take, and specifically, how long is it before Moore is penciled into the starting lineup card with a sharpie? The main issues keeping the Sharpie cap on for now are a question of which outside linebacker position he’ll play, the fact he’ll endure typical first-year mistakes and his position competition.

In all likelihood, the Raider rookie will see snaps from both the strong and weakside. Entering his senior season, he was viewed as a player best fit for the weakside position, where linebackers are called to be lighter and faster. But, given his weight gain and extensive time spent playing defensive musical chairs, Moore is now capable of playing both spots, which he did in Oakland’s minicamp.

Linebacker is a group that currently appears like the Raider defense does as a whole: revamped. The team returns just three of its 11 starters from a year ago, including former Husky safety Tyvon Branch, who hosted Moore at UConn when he was a visiting high school recruit. Oakland will still work out of a 4-3 defensive front, where former Chicago Bear Nick Roach is expected to man the middle.

This leaves two spots for Moore, Kevin Burnett, Kaluka Maiava and Miles Burris.

Burris started 15 of 16 games last year for the silver and black, after being selected in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of San Diego State. He was one of the few bright spots on the gloomy Raider defense, collecting nearly 100 tackles a season ago. Despite the fact he is still somewhat recovering from January knee surgery, Burriss currently appears to be Moore’s primary competition.

Meanwhile, Burnett was another bright spot for Oakland, albeit during the off-season. The Dolphins cut the veteran a few months back, when Miami was working to get younger and faster at the position. He brings a wealth of experience to the youthful Raider squad and is better slotted to play the strongside. Behind Roach, Burnett is, for the moment, the man second-most likely to lock up a linebacking job.

Finally, there’s Maiava, who was another free agent signing this past off-season. The former USC product comes from Cleveland, where he starred on special teams for four years before signing a three-year $6 million contract in Oakland. At 6’ 0" 230 lbs., Maiava is likely solely vying for the weakside linebacker spot, but this could be jeoparadized by July 10th charges of assault and criminal property damages. He is believed to have beat up two men at a Hawaii bar with his older brother and could face up to a year in jail.

Long live and never change, Raiders.

Oakland kicked off their training camp yesterday in Napa, C.A., about 50 miles north from their stadium in the Bay Area. The team opens the pre-season at home against Dallas on August 9th with kickoff scheduled for 10 p.m.