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Filling in has been fulfilling

Moore, Molden aid the secondary

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 9, 2012
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He’s only been in the league for a season, and the best way to describe Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore’s career is on-again, off-again.

Everyone passed on him in the draft out of SMU. He went into training camp with his hometown Oakland Raiders, but was released once it ended. The Patriots signed him to the practice squad in October, and he played five games, but he bounced between the practice squad and the 53-man roster.

New England released him Dec. 10, then signed him to the practice squad again four days later.

“It’s been a long season,’’ Moore said. “But you just always have confidence in yourself and what you can do on the field and show that to everybody and prove why you should be on the field.

“The biggest thing is not losing confidence in yourself, and I didn’t lose confidence in myself. That helped me throughout the season.’’

When Moore picked off two passes in the season finale against the Bills, the time he spent yo-yoing all season seemed worth it.

“I just tried not to think about it too much,’’ Moore said. “Just go work out and keep your mind off of what’s going on, because you can only control so much. Just try to control what you can control and that’s being in shape for when the next team calls.

“I definitely thought it was an opportunity. I thought anywhere I went was an opportunity. I just had to show the coaches and everybody that I deserved some playing time and I can contribute on the field.’’

The Patriots’ defensive backfield has been has been a plug-and-play situation all season, and when the opportunity presented itself, Moore was ready.

“A guy’s released from a team, ends up with another team, gets another opportunity, and is able to take advantage,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “You just keep working and hope you get another opportunity, hope you take advantage of another one that comes. He certainly did that. He’s definitely an example of a guy that was ready and was able to capitalize on his moment.’’

The Patriots had injuries to starting safety Patrick Chung and cornerback Devin McCourty this season. Between Moore, who made his first career start in Week 11 against the Chiefs, and Antwaun Molden, who was claimed off waivers in September, the team was able to find players to patch things together.

Molden was one of just three Patriots defensive backs to play in all 16 games, along with Kyle Arrington and James Ihedigbo. Belichick said he had been keeping track of Molden for a while, and finally was able to pick him up when the Texans waived him.

“He’s a bigger corner that can run that’s been productive in the kicking game,’’ Belichick said. “He’s had some production on defense. He definitely has some things you like to work with. In the opportunities he’s had, he’s done well with them. There are still things he can improve on, but he works hard and he’s been out there every day. He’s a dependable guy. He’s healthy, he’s on the field every day, so he’s getting better, and those are good things.’’

The secondary was in flux during the regular season - part of the reason it gave up an AFC-high 4,703 net passing yards - and how it will look in the Patriots’ division-round playoff matchup Saturday night at Gillette Stadium against the Broncos is still a question. But what gets overlooked is that the defense also picked off an AFC-best 23 passes (including 16 by the secondary), and players such as Moore (two picks) and Molden (two), who were looking for jobs at the start of the season, were in the mix.

“So you can say they’re helping a little bit,’’ Chung said. “I mean we have confidence with anybody back there, man, anybody. We have a lot of athletes back there, so now we’re just working to take it one game at a time.’’

Josh Barrett started at safety and Ras-I Dowling at corner in the season opener. They’re both on injured reserve. Nate Jones, Philip Adams, Ross Ventrone, Ihedigbo, and Sergio Brown all have gotten looks in the secondary. Special teams ace Matthew Slater started three games at safety. Wide receiver Julian Edelman even switched to the other side of the ball; he may actually be one of the best defensive backs the team has at the moment.

Moore has played in six games. He acknowledged that sometimes it feels like a meet-and-greet in the secondary.

“It’s been tough at times, not necessarily knowing who’s going to be back there or when they’re going to be back there,’’ he said. “But we have confidence in each other. Whoever’s back there, they’re going to be in the spots they need to be, and I think the big thing is not doing somebody else’s job, just focusing on your position and what your responsibility is out there. Because when you start doing other people’s jobs is when it kind of gets messed up.’’

It hasn’t all been pretty, but having players such as Moore and Molden make plays when their numbers were called has helped keep the secondary patched-up.

“[It’s] mental toughness,’’ Chung said. “When you go through stuff like that - on and off, on and off, on and off - it’s just being strong, just waiting for your turn.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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