How the Cardinals’ Rondale Moore prepared to bring college stardom to the NFL

Every night when Rondale Moore comes home from Arizona Cardinals training camp, he talks to his family in Indiana. His mother, Quincy, and his older cousin, “Uncle Gino”, are part of his regular calls.

The same goes for JaMarcus Shephard.

Shephard is not family. He and Moore first met when Moore was a junior at Trinity High School in Louisville, Kentuck. It was early 2017, Shephard’s first year as a wide receivers coach at Purdue.

Over the next two years, Moore would commit to the Boilermakers of the State of Ohio, Alabama and the State of Florida. He would post 1,471 yards of scrimmage in 2018, becoming the first true freshman to be an All-American consensus since Adrian Peterson. He was apparently ordained for NFL stardom.

Like everyone else, Shephard saw the elusiveness and athleticism that made Moore special. As a high school student, he posted a running time of 4.33 at 40 yards. Three years later, at the NFL combine, he ran a 4.29. From a speed standpoint, 18-year-old Moore didn’t leave much room for improvement.

Shephard, however, also saw the flaws in Moore’s game. He was not a precise enough road runner. He didn’t understand leverage well enough. His knowledge of defensive plans was worthy of a freshman.

And while Purdue wanted the ball in Moore’s hands as much as possible, his weaknesses kept him from being a constant threat on the pitch. According to Pro Football Focus, 78% of his college targets were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Due to a pair of hamstring strains in 2019 and 2020, the majority of those targets – and 13 of his 20 college games – came in freshman. In other words, the fruits of his last two years of hard work have rarely paid off on the football field.

Since then, everything Moore has worked on – both with Shephard and his trainer, Chris Vaughn – has come with two goals: to stay healthy and become a better all-around receiver.

“Once he’s got the ball in his hands he’s electric and his natural gifts take over,” said Vaughn. “Creating that separation is going to give him half a second so he can put his foot in the ground, make a move, prepare people and do what he’s good at.”

To learn how to create a split, Moore had to master the efficiency in the break zone, which Vaughn describes as the “junction point where a receiver is at the top of his road and it’s time he got his foot in it. soil and separates “.

In Moore’s work with Vaughn, that meant forgetting everything he knew about running. The two began working on Moore’s balance by running him through routes and learning the entry and exit movements of his break effectively, using the ground like a sprinter uses a starting block.

Then comes the transition to racing routes at progressively higher speeds.

“Placing tennis balls in different places on the floor, being able to synchronize to the point where he could actually pick up a tennis ball from the floor in the break zone and be comfortable at that point,” said Vaughn. “And then take that tennis ball out there and have that as a signal to be able to go down low enough… to create this explosion.”

Vaughn’s work did not take place in isolation. As a personal trainer, he has a perfect command of the physical aspect of football. The mental side is Shephard’s domain.

To maximize the effectiveness of a route, Shephard explained, a receiver needs to put himself in the mind of a defender. During breaks from his class schedule at Purdue, Moore would go to Shephard’s office to study the film further. Shephard snapped the film, teaching Moore how to put a defensive back in a vulnerable position, unsure of the receiver’s next move.

May 14, 2021;  Tempe, Arizona, United States;  Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore (85) during the rookie mini-camp at Dignity Health training center.  Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

After explaining the philosophies in his office, Shephard took Moore to the training ground and lined him up as a defensive back.

“I actually make them be the defender and actually do the movement that the defender would actually make,” said Shephard, “so they understand why the defender would fall into that area or move into that area and have a sense of it. And how. a different movement of a receiver can affect them.

In the months surrounding the NFL Draft, before and after Moore landed with the Cardinals, Shephard worked with Moore to deepen his knowledge of opposing defensive plans. Throughout Moore’s college career, understanding defenses was a goal, but as he turned his attention to the NFL, the effort intensified.

While NFL teams often run completely different agendas from their college counterparts, Shephard made them more familiar to Moore by pointing out the similarities to what he saw at Purdue. There is also, Shephard said, more nuance in NFL defenses. This means that a receiver needs to analyze a defense before the snap and understand how everything from the placement of free safety to the number of linemen will impact how a defense works.

“Gone are the days of you just going out there and walk the road we told you to go and that’s it,” Shephard said. “These guys must be scholars.”

Still, there is an adjustment to the NFL game that cannot be replicated through film study and practice.

“The biggest change when you keep moving up from high school to college and then now in the NFL is just the speed,” Moore said. “And when I say speed, I don’t necessarily mean that of a player (speed). I just think it can get overwhelming. The holes are getting a lot smaller, these windows are condensing, people understand what’s going on.

Two weeks after the start of training camp, Moore knows his adaptation to the NFL is far from over. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said on Monday: “He has a lot to improve on to impress me.” When asked about this quote, Moore agreed with Hopkins. “On a larger scale, I didn’t do anything,” Moore said.

There are also other adjustments. Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury noted Moore’s intensity and professionalism, while acknowledging that many of the defensive looks he saw at training camp – especially in the men’s cover – are ploys he is not used to.

It is at these times, when the baptism of fire is most difficult, that Moore sees the last two years paying off the most.

“Capitalizing on understanding the levers helped the game slow down for me,” said Moore. “And then staying in the playbook has helped tremendously.”