On Wednesday morning, minutes after the Chiefs’ final training camp practice at Missouri Western ended, outside linebacker Dezman Moses took his place in front of a padded blue blocking dummy.
He smacked it with his arms and forearms at a quick, rhythmic pace reminiscent of a boxer training his hand-eye coordination on a speed bag.
It is a new ritual for Moses, but the same one star outside linebacker Justin Houston has faithfully done, post-practice, for the better part of two years.
“(You’re) just training your hands — eye, hand, muscle memory (to) be able to do things, even when you’re tired,” said Moses, 26. “Your hands … your feet start to naturally do certain things when you train them, so when you really work on your craft and your technique is tight, you leave yourself with less room to worry.
“I feel like it pays off.”
Moses’ performance in the Chiefs’ first preseason game Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals offered proof of that.
In a team-high 48 plays, Moses racked up four tackles, including two for loss. Pro Football Focus also credited him with five quarterback hurries — no one else on either team had more than three — and one quarterback hit.
Not bad for a player who hadn’t appeared in a game in nearly 20 months. Moses, a 6-foot-2, 249-pounder, missed last season after elbow surgery.
“It’s always tough when you’ve got to sit out and watch your brothers go out there and battle,” said Moses, who agreed to return to the Chiefs on a one-year contract in March. “But it was a chance for me to learn and really be away from the game and gain a new appreciation, a new respect for it.”
Moses remembers the elbow injury coming out of nowhere last August. It was toward the end of a training camp practice, and he was acting as a blocker on punt return when he engaged a player trying to get free off the edge. Moses’ arm got tangled up with the other player.
“Honestly, it wasn’t really painful at all,” Moses said. “It kind of felt like a cramp. I went up and obviously got the bad news.”
Moses quickly discovered how much he missed the game. After recording only one quarterback hurry in 2013, he is itching to get back to the kind of production he had for Green Bay in 2012, when he had 27 tackles and four sacks.
“Well, for one I’m healthy,” said Moses, who was claimed off waivers by the Chiefs before the 2013 season, which he says he played on a broken toe.
“That wasn’t exactly fun. But that’s part of the game, part of being a professional in this game. You’ve got to be tough, you’ve got to be available.”
But Moses knows he also needs to be productive. He says the improvement in his pass rush ability is “night and day.”
“This is my third year in the defense,” he said. “When you know exactly what you’re doing, you get a chance to play much faster.”
Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has noticed a difference.
“I think Dez has had a real good camp,” Sutton said. “He’s had a lot of energy, made a lot of plays … he’s definitely an improved player.”
Moses puts that energy on display on a regular basis. He got fired up after a handful of his tackles against the Cardinals, and he could be seen hopping up and down and bobbing his head after a sack during Monday’s practice.
“Oh yeah, I’m always having fun, man,” Moses said. “I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. … It’s a kid’s game.”
Even though he’s also approaching it with the kind of diligence one might reserve for their profession.
“Being behind two Pro Bowlers, Justin and Tamba (Hali), those guys are great. They’re very open with their knowledge,” Moses said. “I’d be a fool not to learn a ton in two years. I’m that type of guy, I catch everything.”
That last part explains why he’s also embraced the importance of performing on special teams. There’s plenty of competition at outside linebacker behind Houston and Hali. Josh Martin (another young pass rusher they’ve spent two-plus years developing), Dee Ford (2014 first-round pick) and Frank Zombo (one of special teams coach Dave Toub’s most trusted veterans) are also vying for roles.
On Saturday, Moses was on the Chiefs’ kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return units, and was first string on two of them — kick return and punt.
“You’ve just got to keep going, you’ve got to do all the little things,” Sutton said, when asked what Moses has to do to make the team. “You’ve got to go contribute on special teams, that type of thing. That’s a big part for anybody that’s not in that first group.
“But I think if he keeps going, he’s going to be in really good position.”
That’s obviously an encouraging sign for Moses, even if he doesn’t allow himself to ponder his future much.
“The chips will fall where they may, and, you know, for me it’s always worked out,” Moses said. “I’m thankful for where I’m at right now, but I definitely feel like I’m taking off and I feel like I’m in a great spot as far as my knowledge and technique and health right now. I’m ready to really show some people and open some eyes.”