KNOXVILLE — Tennessee safety Byron Moore missed Tuesday’s practice after spraining an ankle in the scrimmage last weekend.
It was only a minor hiccup in what’s been a successful spring.
“It was hard — I’ve been having a pretty solid spring,” the junior said after Thursday morning’s practice at Neyland Stadium. “Having to sit out hurt a little bit, but I got some good rehab in between to get it right.
“I’m pretty happy with the work I’ve put in. You can always get better, so it just set up a good foundation to go into the summer, get ready for the fall.”
After not making as big an impact as he might have liked last season, Moore has grabbed a first-team spot alongside Brian Randolph at the back of the Vols’ defense. Following a season at a California junior college, the Southern Cal transfer stepped onto UT’s campus last June and struggled to manage his weight properly. That affected his speed and performance and limited how much he played early on in 2011.
He started twice at nickel back, played special teams and provided depth at safety, finishing with six tackles and one forced fumble.
“I think just being a year in, [he’s] a little more settled,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “Byron’s a smart and instinctive player, and that’s helped him. [He] probably has a greater ability to pick things up quicker than a lot of guys, and that’s helped him.”
It also helped that UT’s new defense wasn’t foreign to the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Moore. In new coordinator Sal Sunseri’s schemes, the Vols are ditching the traditional free- and strong-safety alignments for right and left safeties. The safety on one side will roll down closer to the line depending on the offense’s alignment, which forces both safeties to be able to play run and pass.
“Oh, yeah, it’s different,” safeties coach Josh Conklin said. “What we’re trying to do is trying to get them exposed, like we’ve said before, to a lot of positions. You’re trying to get them exposed to a lot of concepts. Those things are important.
“On the front end, it may be a little but more frustrating at times, maybe a little bit tougher, but when it comes right down to it, over the long term you’re going to see guys that are going to take huge jumps as we progress through this.”
Having played in a similar defense in high school and junior college, Moore had a head start on making a jump.
“The offenses are evolving,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to play both sides at any minute because they motion and shift stuff so fast. You’re not always going to have time to go back out to the other side. It helps being able to move the defensive leverage real fast.
“I think it’s easier. You’re not worried about finding what’s the strong side and what’s the weak side. You can just play left and right based off the formation.”
Good on good
In a deviation from Dooley’s first two seasons, the Vols are treating Saturday’s Orange and White Game as a third spring scrimmage. UT ditched the player-led draft in favor of maintaining “a little continuity” on both sides of the ball. The White team will feature the first-team offense, and the Orange team has the first-team defense.
“There’s some guys that kind of have been rolling with the ones that won’t be able to work with the ones,” Dooley said. “That’s a little bit of a drawback. It’ll be a good opportunity for us to get another day’s work. We want to see how these guys go.”
Though drafting teams created a sense of competition, Saturday’s format will do the same in a different way.
“It’s going to help mold us better as an offense and as a defense,” said left tackle Antonio “Tiny” Richardson. “It’s all about competing. Right now we’re just trying to compete. In order to compete you need your best against your best, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Justin Hunter will not play Saturday as the Vols avoid the risk of a setback on the star receiver’s left knee. ... Dooley said there’s a “good chance” defensive backs Brent Brewer (knee) and Prentiss Waggner (shoulder) will play. Both have been in noncontact red jerseys all spring. ... After beginning the spring at outside linebacker, Brewer is back at safety, where he played last season. The move, originally to protect the junior’s torn ACL, “worked out good,” Dooley said. It also appears it will stick, as Dooley said Brewer will work at safety this summer.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...