WESTFIELD, Ind. — When the 2018 NFL Draft came and went and former South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore's name wasn't called, he had options to choose from.
Considered a possible mid-round pick, Moore had rare ball production in college, intercepting 14 passes and leading the Gamecocks in tackles all four years that he played.
The catch? Moore missed all of the 2016 season with a herniated disk in his neck that required surgery, causing him to miss the entire season. Alas, he returned in 2017 to play in a full slate of games.
Moore told the media on Wednesday that he has not had any issues with the neck since then, but it could still help explain why such a talented, accomplished player would go undrafted.
Despite whatever issues caused teams to overlook Moore in the draft, they were calling now that he was a free agent. As to why he chose to sign with the Colts, Moore said, "I just felt like it was the best opportunity. I saw the depth, and Chris Ballard called me. We spoke, and I felt like it was the best fit and opportunity for me to come in and be productive."
Moore entered the Colts' offseason program as an undrafted free agent, but his potential would not be ignored. With the Colts changing to a new 4-3 defense, they are reliant on players with Moore's skillset — quickness and athleticism.
The coaches had no preconceived notion of which of their linebackers would be starters yet, as we've seen that everyone has been given a fair shake. Because of that, Moore earned some work with the first-team defense at MIKE linebacker during offseason practices.
Anthony Walker has been the Colts' first-team MIKE linebacker since camp began last week, but he left the field with a groin injury during Sunday's practice, an issue that head coach Frank Reich said will take "a few weeks" to clear up.
With a players day off on Monday, it gave the coaches some time to come up with a gameplan for Walker's absence. When practice started back up on Tuesday, it was Moore with the first unit at MIKE, and it's remained that way the last two practice sessions, as well.
Between the reps during the spring and his previous experience in college, Moore has been able to transition rather smoothly with this opportunity:
"My junior year, we actually played this same scheme, so it's actually been pretty helpful in the transition," Moore said. "I actually played the MIKE my junior year, too, so it's been pretty smooth for me to transition into this."
The MIKE linebacker is often looked at as the quarterback of the defense, so it is a big responsibility. But Reich knows what a "good opportunity" this is for the rookie.
"Skai has made a really good impression the first few days of camp," Reich said.
"I have been happy with him, and really the key is consistency. He's a young guy, so avoid the big mistake and communicate well. But he's stepped up and he's really gotten himself in good condition. Early on, he had a few little tweaks here and there. I think needed to get in slightly better condition. I think he's done that, to his credit, and really stepped up and been given a great opportunity. I think he's doing a good job so far."
As for Moore's perspective, he's taking it all in and hopes to capitalize on the opportunity.
"I'm taking advantage of it. Unfortunately, Anthony went down, but I've got to step up and make the most of all my reps," he said. "I know every day is an evaluation, and I've just to come in and be the best that I can be every day. I can't lack or miss anything. Just be the best me every day — that's all I can do."
Moore has also been seen working as the lone linebacker in dime packages, something that caters to the physical abilities of guys like Moore and fellow rookie Darius Leonard.
Moore said he believes getting an opportunity in the dime packages gives him a chance to showcase his strengths.
"Definitely. Me being in there and being able to get into drops and passing lanes at the dime 'backer — me being the only 'backer in there in that package — it plays to my strengths," he said. "Because we're expecting them to throw it in that situation, so me being able to just break on passing routes and getting in passing lanes is my strength."