Moore's first six catches of 2008 have netted 150 yards, giving him a 25.0 yards-per-catch average that is easily the team's best. This big-play ability provides Tennessee's best bet to stop opponents from crowding the box to shut down the Vol ground attack.
"Denarius is a guy that's showing up in games – making a lot of plays for us – and that's what you've got to do," head coach Phillip Fulmer said. "If you get that much man to man, you've got to be able to separate and catch the football and make plays.
"Life gets a lot simpler when you have somebody out there that they (defenders) have to double-cover. Denarius is a guy who has shown he can command some of that respect."
If the Vols have a defensive counterpart to Denarius Moore, it would be linebacker Savion Frazier. The 6-2, 210-pound sophomore from Woodbridge, Va., was in on three tackles last weekend at Georgia and is making a serious push for more playing time.
"He's getting there," defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "Physically, he's been there. Now, mentally, he's ready. I feel very, very comfortable with him being in the game. I think Savion will have a really bright future here. He's a big guy that can run, that can make plays, can play physical."
Frazier opened the season stuck behind All-America candidate Rico McCoy. With McCoy underachieving this fall, Frazier is becoming more and more of a factor in the linebacker mix.
"When you look at the guys who haven't played much for us at linebacker, he's the one that's really up and coming," Chavis said. "I think he has a chance to have a really bright future."
In spite of a 2-4 record that includes an 0-3 SEC mark, Tennessee's coaches are not ready to write off 2008 and start preparing younger players for '09. Still, they expect increased contributions from some fresh faces in the weeks ahead.
"I think (redshirt freshman) Ahmad Paige is one of those guys that's getting really close," Fulmer said. "He might be our fastest receiver. He hasn't been very consistent or very physical but you can see in the last two or three weeks that that's really coming on."
Naturally, young players are likely to have greatest impact at positions of greatest need. Moore and Paige are in line for more playing time at wideout because veterans Josh Briscoe (6 catches) and Austin Rogers (4 catches) have not been as effective as anticipated. Frazier's role has increased because McCoy's production has decreased. With the offensive line struggling, 6-4, 330-pound sophomore Jarrod Shaw could get a look this weekend against Mississippi State.
"Jarrod Shaw is really close to being able to get in the game as an offensive lineman," Fulmer said. "But when you're battling to win a game is not necessarily the time to say, 'OK, I'm going to see how Jarrod does.'
"But I'm dying to get him in a game to play."
Tennessee is starting four sophomores on offense – Nick Stephens at quarterback, Gerald Jones at receiver, Luke Stocker at tight end and Kevin Cooper at fullback. Two more sophomores – defensive backs Eric Berry and Dennis Rogan – start on defense. Classmates Chris Walker and Ben Martin are seeing significant action at defensive end. First-team kicker Daniel Lincoln is a sophomore, as well.
Other than reserve fullback Austin Johnson, the Vols are getting virtually no help from true freshmen. That might not be the case once linebacker Herman Lathers overcomes some health problems, however.
"Herman Lathers is out for a while with tonsilitis," Fulmer noted, "but he was closing that gap considerably."
With his job security on the line, Fulmer obviously is not going to bench Tennessee's veteran players and commit to an all-out youth movement. But the head man is taking a long look at some players who could make a lot more impact in the second half of the 2008 season than they made in the first half. In other words, almost no job is safe.
"There are some positions where the competition's been good and it will be decided during the course of the week who's going to start," Fulmer said. "At this point right now, everybody needs to be on their A-Game and not wait until Saturday."