KNOXVILLE — Byron Moore already was playing well.
When Tennessee's secondary was hit by an injury, though, the Volunteers' safety knew that wouldn't be enough.
Moore is off to a fast start in his second year in the program after transferring from junior college, and Tennessee will need him to continue that trend with Brian Randolph lost for the season.
"There's no doubt he's stepped it up," Vols safeties coach Josh Conklin said after Tennessee's practice on Wednesday morning. "He's gone to work every day. I don't think it's too much, but you've seen a little bit more maybe urgency.
"He understands that, 'Hey, I am kind of the leader back there. I've got to be the one that's in charge, so I'm going to be the one that takes control of it and makes sure everybody gets on the same page.' You can see him starting to take over that role that Brian was doing a little bit more of making sure everybody's on the same page out there. Is it going to be 100 percent? No, but that's what we're shooting for, and he's taken than role."
In the first game without Randolph following the productive sophomore's season-ending injury against Florida, Moore became the first Tennessee player since Eric Berry in 2007 with two interceptions and added 10 tackles in the Vols' win over Akron. His first pick set up a field goal, and his second came near the goal line with the Zips driving to open the third quarter. Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri said Moore was his unit's most productive player.
Entering Saturday's game against Georgia's Southeastern Conference-leading offense, Moore must continue that level of play and handling of his newly increased role as a quarterback in Tennessee's secondary.
"I knew it was going to be more responsibility on my plate, so I just felt I embraced it," he said. "I felt like if it was going to be a communication breakdown, I would have taken full responsibility for it. It's just up to me now that all our DB's are on the same page."
In a secondary that's struggled on the field in the addition to losing Randolph the past two games, Moore's play has been a bright spot. He has three interceptions in four games, a third of Tennessee's team total from last season. He's second on the team to linebacker A.J. Johnson in tackles.
Such production seemed unlikely to happen last season, when Moore's career got off to a slow start. He struggled with weight, conditioning and the scheme. He had just two tackles in seven games before making his first start as the nickelback against South Carolina.
With Brent Brewer limited by his recovery from a knee injury, Moore slowly nailed down a starting safety spot next to Randolph and solidified the job with a strong preseason and his first interception against North Carolina State in the season opener.
"I always felt confidence in myself that I could be this type of player," he said. "Even last year, I felt like I could be this type of player. It was just keep grinding and waiting for my turn to come.
"That's the main thing our coaches stress to us is if you're going to be out there, be productive, and I try to do that as best as I can each game."
As the season progresses, the Vols will need Moore to continue making plays.
"He's made a lot of improvements as he's gone through the season [and] it's good to see," Conklin said. "He's been a productive guy, and he's going to to continue to be productive if he just keeps approaching it the right way. The thing that I like about Byron is when he goes about this day-to-day process, there's not a lot of flashiness to him.
"He's not maybe what you would say a dynamic guy as far as personality. He doesn't draw a lot of attention to himself, but in my opinion that's what the great ones do. He just goes about his job, does his job every single day and at the end of the week on Saturday, he's produced at a high level."
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 ...