KNOXVILLE -- A 4-yard blip in a sea of 63 Saturday points stood out to several University of Tennessee football coaches and players.
The modestly successful hitch-route pass from quarterback Jonathan Crompton in the final minute of Saturday's first quarter capped junior receiver Denarius Moore's earlier-than-expected return from a fractured foot.
Some in the complex worried that the Volunteers' fastest wideout wouldn't return to the field until early October, but he limped back to the practice field last week and beat that scenario by a full month.
Moore said he knew last Tuesday that he'd have a chance to play against Western Kentucky, and his odds improved as the week progressed.
"All I can say is the Man Upstairs helped me, and I came in and got treatment," Moore said after Monday afternoon's one-hour practice. "When I had my own time, I still came in here just to get treatment. And then the trainers made sure I got the right treatment."
Kiffin said senior left tackle Chris Scott was UT's best offensive lineman Saturday, with senior center Cody Sullins second. Sullins is a former walk-on who was making his first varsity start.
Kiffin said junior linebacker LaMarcus Thompson played "extremely well" Saturday in his first varsity collegiate action.
Assistant head coach Ed Orgeron, who handles the defensive line, said his players gave great effort Saturday but missed "four or five" sack opportunities. He called that a pretty common occurrence for a season opener, though, since quarterbacks aren't typically tackled in preseason camp. Orgeron vowed his line would be "much better" this Saturday against UCLA.
Moore said his lingering slight limp stems from a strength difference in the two legs and not from pain. He maintained that he felt no pain.
"The only thing I was worried about was running full speed, 100 percent, and then trying to stop on the foot," Moore said. "But then, once I started running routes versus air, it really wasn't hurting, so I just kept going faster and faster.
"I'm 100 percent. There's nothing wrong with my foot. I can still make cuts. I just hope my speed is still there. I hope that hasn't changed.
Moore has never been considered a one-dimensional prospect, but his best tool -- using exceptional speed to separate from defensive backs on long routes -- emerged last season in a big way. He had only 11 receptions but averaged 24.6 yards per catch, best on the team by nearly 12 yards. He was the receiving end of UT's top three passing plays.
"He's a big-play guy and deep-threat guy," Vols junior right tackle Jarrod Shaw said. "He's one of those guys that we know can put points on the board for us, because he's done it. It helps us a lot, having him back out here."
Added Aaron Douglas, the other half of UT's right-tackle rotation: "Denarius said he was full-go this week, and that's awesome. He's just another weapon to throw out there in the mix, and we've already got a lot of weapons out there. It's exciting."
Freshman safety Janzen Jackson diplomatically refused to call Moore the team's fastest receiver, but he didn't deny the impact "D-Mo" could create.
"He looks like himself," Jackson said. "He was making a lot of cuts that he hasn't done since (he got hurt) this summer. It's going be a big thing for us to get Denarius back, because he can stretch the field vertically, and a lot of the receivers we had making plays out there Saturday, they're going to get left open a lot more with Denarius on the field."
"Now once we get (Gerald) Jones back, we're really going to be clicking."
First-year UT coach Lane Kiffin said Jones, the team's leading returning receiver, might suit up for Saturday's home game with UCLA despite suffering a high ankle sprain last month.
"We hope to have Gerald this week," Kiffin said. "That would be very good for us. At the time of his injury, he was by far our No. 1 receiver, and our most productive guy in practices."
Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Tennessee wide receiver Denarius Moore (6) breaks a tackle by Anthony Anderson (36) during the first half of Saturday's Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. The White team won 41-23.
Jones and Moore were expected to perform separate but equally large tasks this season, with Moore running deep to clear the field for Jones' underneath routes.
"We're excited to have (Moore) back," receivers coach Frank Wilson said. "We threw him in a couple of plays last week just to get him going again. As this week progresses, we'll see how he goes mentally and physically, and that will determine how much we play him in the coming game.
"I'd love to get Gerald back, too. That would help us."