ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Eye contact isn't the easiest thing for many of us. Perhaps you're shy; maybe you have Asperger's or social anxiety, and your eyes dart and dodge, and do anything but focus on the subject.
Rahim Moore does not have this problem. His eyes pierce you.
But perhaps you're not at his level of eye contact. When you're around Moore, you do your best to overcome this. You make the extra effort to look him in the eyes because that's the best way to understand him. You look him in the eyes because he wants to understand you, what you're trying to say and who you are. You do this because in two and a half years, he's answered every question you've asked -- even the ones that dredged up what was just about the most emotionally painful moment any player can endure in the context of NFL competition. He's earned the respect of eye contact, even when it's something you try to avoid with anyone.
This is the way to communicate with Moore, because he shirks innovations that have made the world smaller and depersonalized it at once. He doesn't tweet. He eschews texting. He doesn't even like e-mails -- "I probably got 1,000 that's unread, but I'll get to them anyway," he admits. While most 20-somethings two years out of college tap away at their smartphones, he wants to talk; he trades in voices, faces, pauses that reveal a true intent that text only can conceal. Moore prefers the whole spectrum of communication, spoken and non-verbal.
"I'm more visual. Come see me to my face, you know?" he said. "I'm kind of old school to be 23 years old. I'm not into the texting all the time. I'm a guy where I like to be, I'm real hands-on, I like to see your face."
Moore has the communication habits of a retired grandfather, and truth is, he might be better for it. It's just as well, especially on Jan. 12, after a misplay on a deep pass led to the game-tying Ravens touchdown 31 seconds before the end of regulation of the divisional-playoff game.
A publicly-accessible Twitter handle would have been little more than a license for harangues, epithets and rants to be targeted at him, many delivered under the curtain of pseudonyms and Internet handles. These diatribes existed, anyway, but at least Moore was spared the personal nature of having an @ in front of them and seeing one after another pop on a timeline. Each would have been another blow to a man who could hardly have felt more pain than he put upon himself.
Would many of these people have said these things to his face? Or would they have skulked away, unable to look him in the eye and pulverize him with words as they did when their identity was hidden -- or at least more difficult to trace? Most probably wouldn't have. Nevertheless, Moore couldn't avoid every foul comment; in May, he said, "I hear them; I just keep walking -- or I just keep them in the back of my head."
The misplay will be a focus of chatter outside the locker room leading up to Thursday night. You can expect to see it replayed on local news, ESPN and NBC's pre-game coverage, just to start.
But what will be of more impact Thursday isn't the hangover from the play, but what improvement Moore has made since then, and how improved work in coverage can help compensate for the absence of Von Miller and the potential absence of Champ Bailey, whose status remains in question, 16 days after he sprained his foot. Having a new partner at safety in Duke Ihenacho and a new right cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie only places a greater scrutiny on Moore, whose improvement in year two was profound.
"It's going to be a lot different from Year 1 and Year 2," Moore said. "John Lynch told me, 'Every year you've got to be better than you've ever been.' And that's something I will always keep."
If he makes the same degree of improvement this year that he did last year -- a leap that Bailey has said Moore can achieve -- he'll ascend to a Pro Bowl level. That's familiar territory for Broncos safeties; if he makes it there, he'll join the company of Brian Dawkins, John Lynch, Steve Atwater, Tyrone Braxton, Dennis Smith and Billy Thompson, all of whom made the Pro Bowl at safety. Throw in original Ring of Famer Goose Gonsoulin, a four-time AFL All-Star participant, and you have a lineage that spans the club's history.
This is the company Moore wants to keep.
"It reminds me of when I came into UCLA with the safety tradition that we had, with Kenny Easley and Eric Turner and Matt Darby and Shaun Williams and Chris Horton and James Washington," Moore said. "That motivated me to want to be a great, to come out of UCLA. So, it motivates me now to be here as well."
The visual evidence of the Broncos' safety legacy is in the position meeting rooms, where pictures of Denver's Pro Bowlers at each position are displayed.
"Every time I go to the to the defensive backs room I see all the Pro Bowlers and all the big-time safeties," Moore said. "I want to be up there."
To get there, he listened to Dawkins when the two were teammates in 2011, and also talks to Lynch. Both are the type of old-school players whose mindset and play Moore adores.
"I've been talking to (Lynch) since I came in as a rookie," said Moore, who grew up a fan of Lynch's first team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "He's always staying after practice (when he visits Dove Valley) and helping me out with a few things and telling me, 'OK, Rahim, you need to do this; you need to do that.'
"I'm like a sponge every time he talks to me. He's a tremendous guy and he's one of the best ever. So, to make that leap like (Bailey) was saying, you have to learn from those who have been there and done that."
Looking legends in the eye, asking questions and heeding their advice is part of the process. Putting in the grueling hours required is another. The defensive backs last year began arriving at Dove Valley before sunrise to watch tape; those pre-dawn meetings are on this year's schedule, as well, beginning Sunday, when Moore said he arrived before 6 a.m.
Those meetings, along with the summer practices, have helped Moore and a re-shuffled secondary hone their communication. If Bailey doesn't play Thursday, the defensive backfield will feature two new starters in Rodgers-Cromartie and Ihenacho, but Moore believes this will not be a problem.
"It's getting better, actually, because one thing about going out there each and every week is repetition and we've all been repping," Moore said. "It's the same thing if I go to corner and Chris (Harris) goes to safety. Well, we all know the terminology of corner, safety, everything around the whole defense. So, that's the good thing about it.
"We've all been in the room for a few years now. But Rodgers-Cromartie feels like he's been here since I've been here. So, you know, we have a great group."
It's a group of players that can look each other in the eye -- but can communicate in the noisy tumult of game day with a gesture or a nod. It's a group that could be the focal point of the defense if a pass rush rocked by a free-agent departure and a suspension can't replicate its 2012 form.
And it's a group that will lean on Moore, who in year three, has never been more willing to look a teammate in the eyes, get to the point and lead by example.
"I don't want to be mediocre," he said. "I don't want to just be a guy. I want to be a playmaker for this defense."
And if he is, the man who wants to communicate eye-to-eye will be the eye of what the Broncos hope is a hurricane-strength defense.