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The UDFA, Part 3: Playing The Game

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C.J. Moore learns what it’s like to play regular season football.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing that can prepare you for making the jump from college football to the pros. Hell, there’s not a whole lot that can prepare to make the jump from the NFL preseason to the NFL regular season. Detroit Lions undrafted free agent C.J. Moore is now in three months into his rookie season, and he’s had the chance to do many things.

He’s mostly played special teams and has shown his worth as a gunner. But he’s also had the chance to play safety in relief of both Quandre Diggs and Tracy Walker. With injuries in the safety position and Diggs trade, he’ll continue to get more opportunities. That’s what Moore’s been up to as a player.

As a human, Moore has continued to learn more and more about the time the job takes up, the way it affects one’s lifestyle and just how much of a business the NFL truly is. Couple that with the chances he’s had to meet some heroes, and it’s safe to say it’s been quite the ride for Moore.

Today in Part 3 of The UDFA, we’ll get into what that ride has been like.

“I love it. It’s way more intense than preseason football. Everything is on the line every week.”

That was the first thing Moore said when I asked him about what it’s like playing regular season football back in September after just two games. The season was still young and Moore hadn’t quite settled into regular season. After nine weeks in the league, his attitude hasn’t wavered. Even after what looked like big rookie mistake against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9.

On FOX’s broadcast, it look like Moore forgot to down Sam Martin’s punt on the 1-yard line. Moore appeared to be expecting his teammate Logan Thomas to touch the ball. The video quickly got national attention within seconds because, well, the internet.

The commercial break gave everyone just enough time to equate this moment to being just another classic Lions gaffe. But after the break we learned that Moore had actually made a really smart heads-up play. Moore went out of bounds on the punt and legally could not be the first player to touch the ball.

“I knew I had stepped out of bounds,” Moore said. “The rule is if you go out of bounds you can’t be the first to touch the ball and I knew that. So I tried getting the others’ attention so they could get it. But I would say I wasn’t dramatic enough about telling them to get it.”

As for the internet, Moore’s response was simple.

“Yeah they were really talking down on me, but they didn’t really know what the situation was.”

Moore’s experiences on the field have been otherwise great. He’s been making the most of his opportunities, and he’s also been soaking up the chances he’s had to meet some of his heroes. Even if the interactions have been small.

“I was trying to make a play at gunner on a punt, and I was on the Cardinals sideline. I was telling Christian Kirk, ‘Hey man, don’t come this way. You better not come this way.’

Larry Fitzgerald’s like, ‘What’s up Moore? Let’s go.’ I was like ‘Yo man, Larry Fitzgerald really just said something to me.’ It was crazy.”

The big moment for Moore, though, was the chance to meet his hero and fraternity brother, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.

“I’ve looked up to him for a long time. And just to meet him in person and play against him, that was just a cool experience.”

On-field experiences both good and bad haven’t been the only thing that Moore has learned about this season. He’s also learned how much goes into being a player in the NFL.

As fans, all we see is the product on Sundays. The players go out and play a four-hour game and the rest of the week is cake, right? Even from the outside, practices don’t seem to be an all-day thing. But in reality, this is an all-day job that can 40 or more hours a week.

Moore described his daily routine at the Lions facility in Allen Park that starts before the sun comes up and ends after the sun goes down. Between practice, film, meetings and conditioning, the work day can easily stretch into a 10-hour gauntlet before you know it.

It’s not only a work thing, either. Some players have to make some serious life changes. Players need to have a strict focus on their bodies and watch what they eat, or they’re at risk of both falling down the depth chart and facing fines.

The good thing is that they’re not alone. Players work through these days with 52 other guys who become your brothers. But the NFL is a business. That’s what players often say when it comes to teams moving players or not re-signing players. Moore learned that lesson for the first time in his career when the Lions traded defensive captain Quandre Diggs at the trade deadline.

“It kinda sucked,” Moore said. “It was unfortunate, because Diggs taught me a lot when I got here in May for rookie minicamp and OTAs and training camp and stuff. Diggs is a good guy, and I’m sure he’ll be a great player for the Seattle Seahawks over there. I’m not upset about it. Like you said, it’s a business. Things happen for a reason.”

The season isn’t over for Moore and the Detroit Lions, even if there’s been a lot going on with and around Moore in his rookie year. At this point the Lions have eight games remaining and anything can happen in this league. Moore plans to make the most the opportunities he gets and continue to fine tune his game.

As for Part 4 of our story, our next stop is to step away from the player and learn a little more about what it’s like to have a football family. Stay tuned.