Midway through his rookie season, Kyle Moore sat in front of defensive line coach Todd Wash and got an earful.
The Bucs defensive end had missed the first eight games with a groin pull and a torn meniscus in a knee, injuries the team believed Moore should have recovered from more quickly. When he did return to practice, Wash wasn't seeing the effort that had made Moore a defensive captain at USC.
Instead, he looked as lost as one sock.
"I told him he still thought he was at USC on scholarship," Wash said. "He was just going through the motions. … We had a heart-to-heart right after he got back. He's been a changed person ever since then. I think he just needed a come-to-Jesus meeting, and he's responded."
Some players, when faced with such a tongue-lashing, might reach for the tissue box. But Moore, 23, went straight to work. He mashed the accelerator during bag drills, tried to copy the moves of the veteran linemen playing ahead of him and slowly played his way into the defensive line rotation.
Moore blames some of his physical problems on the Bucs' insistence last year that he and the other defensive linemen gain weight to play in the two-gap system under former defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who was fired after 10 games. Moore ballooned to 285 pounds and had trouble staying there once the injuries happened.
"My body wasn't used to it, and I kind of blamed the weight on those injuries, too," Moore said. "Both were on the same knee. The groin went first and the meniscus right after that. I came back the last eight weeks and showed them I can play football."
The Bucs need more proof of that from their collection of castoff ends. The veteran of the group is Stylez White, 31, who has 191/2 sacks in three years but has never started more than eight games in a season. There's not much of a resume for Michael Bennett (one career sack), Tim Crowder (71/2 sacks) and rookies Brandon Gilbeaux, James Ruffin, Carlton Powell and Erik Lorig.
Only 18 of the Bucs' 28 sacks in 2009 came from the defensive end position. Their hope is that the addition of defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price will prevent quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket and that ends such as Moore and White will run into more sacks.
Moore hired a trainer in South Florida, and his body looks shredded again at 265 pounds. Last week he did extra running after a 2½-hour practice.
"I'm back to the old me," Moore said. "The explosion is back, explosion off the ball. Last year I kind of rolled off the ball."
The lesson Moore learned is one that rookies have trouble with: There's a difference between being hurt and being injured.
"He didn't understand that you're never going to be healthy again," coach Raheem Morris said. "It took him a while to fight through it. He's starting to figure out you're just going to be hurt, and you've just got to find a way mentally to will yourself to be better and go out there and play faster and as well as you can play that day.
"After the season, (Moore) went home, and he absolutely wanted to come back with no doubt who our starting left end was going to be."
Though in only his second season, Moore has taken rookies Ruffin, McCoy and Price under his wing. But Morris still is trying to find Moore's hot button.
"He has a little edge about him once he gets going," Morris said. "He has a tendency to coast a little bit right now when he doesn't want to finish off one of his own guys, and I'm trying to coach that out of him without ruining practice."
Moore, a military brat who was born in Germany and lived in Texas and Georgia, is embracing a leadership role. He knows the standard on defense in Tampa Bay was set a long time ago, but frankly, he says, the current group is getting a little tired of hearing about it.
"We know what they were. They had awesome defenses, awesome D-lines, an awesome front seven," Moore said. "It's a new year, you know? They let a lot of the veterans go to start a new regime up front. We've got a lot of young people in that front seven, really on that whole defense. Hopefully, as we grow, we can only get better. It's our time."