Ready to blow up?

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He returned two interceptions for touchdowns as a high school senior and two more for TDs as a junior college freshman, so Tennessee fans couldn't wait to see explosive Byron Moore "blow up" after he signed with the Vols 14 months ago.

They're still waiting. The wait may be nearing an end, however.

Now making the transition from cornerback to safety, Moore has been one of the most pleasant surprises of spring practice — getting considerable work with the No. 1 defense.

"Byron's doing a great job for us right now," first-year safeties coach Josh Conklin said this week. "He's showing a lot of effort, as far as studying it and spending a lot of time learning some of the new concepts. We really like his work — not only studying the tape but also out here on the field. He's taking a lot of reps and a lot of mental reps, which is good to see."

Rated a top-100 national recruit in high school, Moore redshirted as a freshman at Southern Cal in 2009 and spent a year turning heads at Los Angeles Harbor Community College before signing with the Vols last February. Given the holes in Tennessee's defensive backfield, he was supposed to start from Day 1 and solidify the secondary. It didn't happen, though.

Moore scarcely played in Games 1 and 2, then never saw the field in Game 3 at Florida. He recorded his first tackle of the season in Game 4 versus Buffalo but managed just one assist in the next three games combined. Injuries in the secondary enabled him to start at nickel back in Game 8 versus South Carolina and Game 9 versus Middle Tennessee.

Moore's sophomore stats show 4 tackles, 2 assists, 1 pass breakup and 1 fumble forced. That was not the kind of impact fans anticipated from the heralded 6-foot-1, 200-pounder. It wasn't what Byron Moore anticipated, either.

"Getting adjusted to a new team, getting used to the size, speed and strength of the guys in the SEC just took me a little longer than I expected," he said this week. "Once I got comfortable and got going, I felt like I did pretty good near the end of the season."

Conklin believes Moore's transition from nickel back to safety is progressing smoothly.

Byron Moore is seeing some time with the first-team defense at safety.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"Not knowing much about last year, he's adapting really well," Conklin said. "We like his range back there. I like his ball skills. He has a good feel for what's happening with the offensive formations and things. He's been really smart in terms of the adjustments. We're really pleased with him right now."

Although Moore failed to distinguish himself at cornerback in 2011, the time he spent there is helping make him a better safety.

"Any time you have a feel for what's happening at safety and what's happening at corner, it makes you a better player because you understand where the stresses are in certain coverages," Conklin said. "You understand where you can overlap to help yourself out a little bit. All of those things are really, really important ... absolutely."

Moore accepted the switch to safety graciously, which has helped make the transition seamless.

"I like it a lot," he said. "Safety is kind of like the quarterback of the defense. We don't really have free safety and strong right now — it's just left and right — so we have to be able to rotate down. I like being flexible. Sometimes I'm in the box, sometimes I'm in the post, sometimes I'm playing man. There's a lot things you can do inside this defense that I love doing, so I'm enjoying playing it right now."

Although safety is more taxing mentally than corner, Moore is embracing that challenge.

"There's different checks and stuff — getting our defense in the right coverage versus different formations and stuff.," he said. "When you're at corner, you're pretty much just playing man or zone. Safety is more like being the quarterback back there, so you've got to get everybody lined up."

Even though the Vols are switching from a 4-3 base defense to more of a 3-4 alignment this year, Moore says the change is having very little impact on the secondary.

"Not too much, really," he said. "We've still got pretty much the same coverages, whether it's a 3-4 or 4-3. It's just knowing things like when the outside linebacker is blitzing, which side is it? Or the curl side to the tight end, which side are we rotating down and stuff like that.

"There's not too much difference."

There may not be much difference in the secondary responsibilities this spring but there seems to be a lot of difference in Byron Moore. Maybe — just maybe — the explosive defender is ready to blow up at last.

To hear Conklin talk further about being at Tennessee and the players he's coaching, click play on the video below:


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