ALAMEDA (AP) — Despite being one of Oakland’s best defensive players his first two years in the NFL, Sio Moore is just fighting for a spot on the team this season.
After missing the offseason program while recovering from hip surgery and more than two weeks of training camp with an undisclosed injury, Moore has been passed on the depth chart by Malcolm Smith and must prove his worth to the new coaching staff.
A day after coach Jack Del Rio said Moore was “competing to be a role player somewhere” Moore spoke Thursday for the first time since returning to the practice field earlier this week,
“It’s just not something I have to validate with you all,” Moore said. “That’s for me to deal with. If that’s what he said, that’s what he said.”
Moore said he feels healthy despite the long absence and is ready to help the team. But Del Rio expressed doubt about how big a role Moore can play immediately after missing so much time.
“To try and cram a guy that hasn’t played at all in camp into role as a feature player, I think that’s a little farfetched right now,” Del Rio said Wednesday.
Moore has been effective his first two seasons after joining the Raiders as a third-round pick out of Connecticut in 2013. He had 7 1/2 sacks, 13 quarterback hurries, 15 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in 26 games his first two seasons and was considered a building block for the team.
But he missed the final three games of last season with the hip injury and then watched a new staff bring in a load of new players at linebacker. Curtis Lofton was signed to be the starting middle linebacker, Smith was added on the outside, and Oakland also drafted Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball.
Smith is starting at Moore’s usual spot at weak side linebacker and has the advantage of having played in college and in Seattle for current Oakland defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.
Smith won the Super Bowl MVP in 2014 when he returned an interception for a touchdown, recovered a fumble and had nine tackles in Seattle’s 43-8 win over Denver. He started only five games last season and played less than one-third of the defensive snaps for the Seahawks, but Norton advocated bringing him to Oakland.
Norton praised Smith’s intelligence and instincts
“He knows the game,” Norton said. “He’s a guy who’s always around the ball. He has a rabbit’s foot in his pocket. Good things always happen to him. You want players on your team who are smart, hard-working and have good luck. Malcolm is the kind of guy you want on the squad.”
NOTES: DE Justin Tuck and TE Clive Walford were among the players who missed practice. ... The Raiders and USA Football awarded football equipment and uniform grants to 10 youth and high school football programs throughout the Bay Area based on merit and need.