COLUMBIA — This is what feels right for T.J. Moe. The crutches are gone. The walking boot is gone. There is no need to chase ball carriers. There is no need to make tackles. He has two healthy feet and a football in his hands.
After spending all of fall camp wearing a red pullover reserved for injured players, Moe made a diving catch during one-on-one receiving drills Friday while sporting the Tigers' standard white practice jersey.
It was the first day that Moe got to blend in with the rest of his offensive teammates. Coach Gary Pinkel said he even had to remind himself what number the freshman receiver wore.
Moe is hoping that the relative anonymity doesn't last long.
Originally recruited as a safety, the former high school quarterback was moved to the offensive side of the ball this spring. Now that he's back and healthy, Moe is looking to combine the football knowledge he gained as a quarterback along with his natural feel for offensive football to become a contributor to the Missouri offense.
For anyone present for Moe's last football performance in Columbia, it would seem curious why anyone would try to turn him into a defensive back. The former Fort Zumwalt West quarterback amassed 425 total yards of offense and accounted for all six of the team's offensive touchdowns in a 54-15 drubbing of Hickman. It was clear from the start of the night that Moe possessed superior vision, speed and ability.
Nonetheless, Missouri defensive backs coach Cornell Ford, who also handled Moe's recruiting, recruited the star quarterback to be a part of Matt Eberflus' defense. But when Eberflus left the program for a coaching job with the Cleveland Browns, and the Tigers added a couple junior college safeties to the mix, Ford brought up the idea of playing wide receiver.
"I was excited," Moe said. "I've always had the ball in my hands, ever since I was little kid. I've been playing since I was 7 years old, and every year I've been playing offense."
Unfortunately for Moe, the difficulties of learning a new position were compounded with an inability to get on the field. Moe had suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot in a playoff game last fall, and he had to spend three months without any physical activity, including eight weeks on crutches.
Moe used his time on the sideline, and his exceptional football IQ, to familiarize himself with the Tigers' offense.
"I feel like I learn stuff pretty quick so knowing where to be and knowing the plays and everything wasn't too hard," Moe said. "I had these plays memorized in the first couple days."
Moe's time as a high school quarterback allowed him to stand out in preseason meetings. After two seasons of having to know everyone's role on any given play, Moe was able to easily map out the tasks for himself and his teammates.
But while the mental workload was similar, the physical requirements were not. Lining up at the inside slot receiver Moe is blocking people for the first time since he was a high school sophomore. And this time, it's 250-pound Football Bowl Subdivision linebackers.
"I like it," Moe said of his blocking duties. "It's a challenge. You go in and everybody's bigger than you, and I'm not a big kid to begin with. But I really don't mind it. I like the challenge."
Pinkel said Friday that he's interested to see how Moe performs now that he's regained his health. Moe is currently listed fourth on the Tiger depth chart at the flat receiver position, but being able to practice at full strength should allow him to better position himself to "be in the hunt" for time on the field, Pinkel said.
"I haven't really talked to the coaches at all about redshirting or not redshirting, playing or anything," Moe said. "Mostly, I'm just trying to learn, because obviously not playing receiver much gives some of the other guys have an upper hand with all of the little tricks. I'm just learning a lot from the older guys right now."