Staff File Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press UT's Aaron Douglas (78) and Vladimir Richard (51) congratulate Denarius Moore (6) after Moore caught a touchdown pass in the second half of the the game against Vanderbilt at Neyland Stadium in 2009.
KNOXVILLE -- Being one of the fastest high school football players in your state isn't always a big deal.
Being one of the fastest high school football players in Texas is a very big deal.
It's not hard to see why Denarius Moore thought he'd simply step foot on the University of Tennessee campus and start running by most defensive backs, even in the Southeastern Conference.
"I didn't expect to just come in here and blow by everybody, because I knew it would be like the NFL, where some guys are just as fast as you are," Moore said Thursday night. "But I thought I'd be faster than a lot of guys.
"And actually it surprised me that ... a lot of guys were just as fast."
To hear Moore's teammates tell it, those were humble words. Moore has made several 50- and 60-yard catches in games the past three years, but he's made many more in practice.
"When Denarius gets going, he's one of the fastest guys I've ever covered," safety Janzen Jackson said. "He's got to be one of the fastest in the SEC. (Alabama's) Julio Jones and (Georgia's) A.J. Green are bigger guys, obviously. But in terms of just speed, I don't think they're faster than Denarius."
Said quarterback Matt Simms: "I'm not sure how many guys have arms big enough to overthrow that guy. He'll go get just about anything down the field."
Added cornerback Anthony Anderson: "When D-Mo gets behind you, it's over."
That's certainly not a bad reputation to have, but Moore doesn't want to be known as just a fast guy.
"I want to become an all-around wide receiver, not just a deep threat," Moore said. "I need to catch the underneath stuff and also come in and block when I'm needed. I'm working on getting my steps down on the shorter routes, trying to get my timing down, getting my head around quicker instead of just running straight down the field and looking for deep balls.
"Obviously, it's good to be fast as a receiver, but I want to become a guy who can do it all."
Moore is on the right track to accomplishing that, head coach Derek Dooley and several Vols said Thursday.
"He's done great -- the last two weeks, especially," Dooley said. "He got off to a little bit of a slow start, but he's made a lot of big plays in practice the past couple of weeks. He's going to be a real critical player for us, especially in the big-play component. That's what he brings, a real explosiveness."
"He's been a really good route runner for us. Of course, the first part is learning what to do, and that's probably what slowed him down the first couple of weeks. But once he got settled in, he's been a real weapon for us."
Simms said he already considers Moore a "true outside receiver."
"He runs certain routes unbelievably well, and everybody on our team sees that," Simms said. "We have plays specifically run to get him open, and he gets open 90 percent of the time on those plays.
"I mean, we're still running him down the field a lot, but we also like to spice it up a little bit and change the way we do some things."
New UT receivers coach Charlie Baggett has coached some of the NFL's top wideouts of the past two decades -- including Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Derrick Mason, Plaxico Burress, Muhsin Muhammad, Andre Rison and Chris Chambers -- and he said the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Moore could become another name on that list.
"I coached in the (NFL) for 12 years, and my experience tells me Denarius has an ability to play at the next level," Baggett said. "He does a lot of things well. We feel like Denarius can make a lot of big plays, and he's already proven that in game-type situations over his career.
"We're trying to get the ball to him, and hopefully we'll continue to do that."
Moore, who isn't as silent as he was his first few years at UT but still doesn't show much emotion to the media, cracked a brief smile when told of Baggett's comments.
"Coach Baggett motivates me every day," Moore said. "He tells me I can be that kind of player, and it's just up to me with whether or not I want to do it.
"It's easy to listen to a coach that's done everything he's done and coached all those great players."
Anderson said Moore has been tougher than usual to cover this spring thanks to a more polished style.
"He's gotten a lot more crisp on his routes," said Anderson, who will start for the White team in Saturday's Orange and White game. "His feet and hands have gotten a lot better since last year. His ability to keep his eyes on it and catch it underneath has improved a lot."
Make no mistake, though, UT's defensive backs still know the most important thing to do when trying to contain Moore.
"Get a running start," Jackson said. "Boy can fly."
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