KNOXVILLE - As a high school senior at Narbonne H.S. in 2008, Tennessee sophomore defensive back Byron Moore was stacking up multiple national, state and regional honors in Carson, Calif.
After redshirting as a freshman at USC in 2009, and transferring to Los Angeles Harbor Community College to play in 2010, Moore found himself on Tennessee’s bench earlier this season, just two years removed from a stellar final year of high school football.
Fast forward to UT’s eighth game of 2011 against South Carolina, where Moore’s hard work and persistence earned him his first career start.
“It was looking bleak for him for a while,” defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said. “You go through some games and you don’t even touch the field. You start hearing whispers of ‘Why is he not playing?’ or ‘What is wrong with him?’
“The kid has just kept his nose to the grindstone and kept working. That’s a tribute to his makeup. I’m proud of him and I couldn’t be happier for him. I hope he has a lot of success throughout the rest of the season.”
Moore, who contributed a pair of tackles against the Gamecocks, is growing into what the Vols hoped he’d be when they signed him.
“He has done a nice job,” defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said. “When he got here I don’t things went like he had hoped, but he has fought through it, kept working and earned his reps through good practice. He’s down a little bit of weight and moving better. He does what you ask him to do consistently and tries to do it right. We expect him to continue to be a little more involved each week.”
Under head coach Derek Dooley, Tennessee has played its most-talented players, regardless of what class precedes their name. The redshirt sophomore is fitting into that mold.
“He’s moving around better and he’s playing better,” Joseph said. “I think we’ve shown since we’ve been here that the best guys are going to play and he’s worked his way into the top five. Our top five will play. I think he’s in better shape. He’s showing more production. He has a better feel. You can see he’s playing with a lot more confidence out there.
“He’s kept working and never complained one bit. When you have a highly-touted recruit that comes in who doesn’t get the immediate success, a lot of times that’s a problem. He’s been great about it and he’s worked his way into a starting spot.”
GIVE HIM SIX … SOON
The Vols have hit a dry spell in terms of scoring touchdowns as UT has been held without one the last two games. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is well aware of the drought and the frustrations it has caused both internally and externally.
“I’m sure I have, it’s been a while,” Chaney said of his offense not scoring a touchdown for two straight games. “It’s frustrating, as coaches we take it as hard as anybody. We understand how the fans and everyone feels and our team feels. We are not being productive. We are disappointed with it.
“At the end of the day, you can look backwards and feel real bad about it, but you have to wake up and go back to work. I don’t know any answer to things when things aren’t going well other than work harder. Work harder, do a better job and just keep on. That’s all we can do. I’m disappointed, you bet we are. Hopefully we will get that changed.”
One area that the Vols will be looking to improve upon in hopes it will lead to some scores in the ground game. Chaney says the Vols need to fine-tine their fundamentals with a focus on blocking.
“Basically, the execution is the key,” Chaney said of the running game, which had 35 net yards vs. South Carolina. “It’s the fundamentals of the blocking that’s killing us the most right now. We are constantly on edge with defenders when we are blocking. We need everybody, it seems it’s the same old repetitive story from Game 1 to now. At any given play, some part of the offense is breaking down when comes to the run game. We are looking for some consistency. I can get a little more creative when it comes to play calls, maybe that will help loosen it up.”
Freshman Devrin Young has been a spark on special teams and could be utilized more on offense as another option to help increase production.
“I think that Devrin creates some problems (for opponents),” Chaney said. “When he’s rolling and healthy, I think you can get him the ball and he can do some things because he has the necessary speed it takes to be explosive. It’s difficult to score points without explosive plays. I’ve said this many times, we are generating very limited explosive plays in the run game and very limited explosive plays everywhere. To put Devrin on the field in hopes of getting explosive plays is something you have to consider.”
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox
(On how much confidence plays in with junior college players)
“A lot of it. The first thing you do when you get here is you have to learn what to do. Aside from the physical part of it, how much faster it is and how much better shape you have to be in to play at this level, there is a lot. Initially sometimes it will slap a lot of guys in the face. Some guys adjust a little quicker than others, but we are excited about all three of those guys (Byron Moore, Maurice Couch and Izauea Lanier) and feel like they are all going to give us something.”
(On using players at the two safety positions interchangeably)
“Traditionally, we try to play to their strengths. If they are similar guys you can play them interchangeably. If they are not and one guy does something better, then we are probably going to use them that way. One guy as the down safety, one guy as a the high safety. In certain coverages they have to be interchangeable. It really just depends on what we are doing that week.”
Defensive backs coach Terry Joseph
(On Marsalis Teague)
“Marsalis has been fine. He’s practiced well. I think he understands the parts of his game that he has to improve. I think he knows that to get on the field, you have to be productive and make some plays. He hasn’t had his head down. He’s really worked well. Playing a team like we’re playing this week, Middle Tennessee, they’re going to try to run about 90 plays. There’s going to be a lot of snaps for guys in that secondary to play. He’s practiced well and I expect him to go out there and play good this week.”
(On JUCO players progressing differently)
“It’s such a big difference from junior college ball to SEC-level ball; Not only the players they’re going against but also the scheme, the playbooks, the environment, and the different things they have to get used to. Different players progress at different rates. You throw the whole playbook at them when they get here and you keep throwing at them and you see how much sticks to them. Obviously, Izauea (Lanier) it happened a little bit quicker than it did for Byron Moore. Here we are sitting at game (nine) and Byron Moore is in the starting lineup. You have to just treat different guys differently. You never can say, ‘Hey, this guy is going to be penciled in as a starter day one.’ You just see how it plays out.”
(On Middle Tennessee)
“We have to do a great job of tackling. We have to do a great job of figuring out their formations and they motion a lot. They want to try to get you confused by their formations and motions so we have to do a great job of having discipline and getting guys on the ground when they do complete the ball. It’s not an offense where you’re going to go 5-for-20 throwing the ball. They’re going to complete some balls because their throws are so short. We just have to put ourselves in position to make the play and really be better tacklers than we were last week.”