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Adapt or be left behind: BYU football safety Malik Moore evolving with new defense

By Jared Lloyd - | Mar 15, 2023

Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo

BYU senior safety Malik Moore (right) lines up to run a drill with another defensive back during spring camp at the indoor practice facility in Provo on Wednesday, March 8, 2023.

It’s always easy to look back and say “what if” since there is no way to know what the actual consequences of such speculation would be.

Still, it’s not too farfetched to imagine that the BYU football team’s defense might be very different right now if not for the injury to safety Malik Moore.

Moore played in four games as a junior in 2022 before suffering a season-ending injury. Not coincidentally, the Cougars went 3-1 in those games.

He had demonstrated in 2021 just how big of a factor he could be, snagging three interceptions and earning a host of All-Independent postseason honors. His combination of range and instincts made him an excellent back-line defender and allowed BYU to be more aggressive at the point of attack.

When he went down, the Cougar defense struggled to consistently fill the void in the secondary and thus relied more heavily on dropping into coverage. The results were mixed as BYU went 3-5 the rest of the regular season and the Cougar defensive coaching staff went through a major overhaul.

What if Moore had never gotten hurt? Would the team have had more successes and won more games? Would the defense have looked more like the teams that won 21 games in 2020 and 2021? Would the coaching staff remained the same?

No one will ever know, least of all Moore.

As he prepares for his senior season, Moore isn’t spending much time looking back or thinking about what might have been.

“It sucked to have to watch,” Moore said. “You’re watching everyone else make plays and have fun. You feel like you’re left out. You hope the next guy can do the same things you were doing. But now I’m back and I’ll be better.”

But the reality is that Jay Hill is now the defensive coordinator and — with the exception of cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford — the entire defensive staff is new. Moore said that means he can’t rely on his past success and he feels he has to demonstrate that he deserves to be on the field.

“I feel like I’m at the bottom with everyone else,” Moore said. “I’m out here working just the same as everyone else. I can’t say I’m the starter. I’ve got to prove to these coaches what I can do. I’ve got to keep grinding.”

But he’s not afraid of change. Indeed, he said it has been something that has been a huge part of his life.

“It’s hard — but it’s not hard because I’m used to adapting,” Moore said. “I was a military kid, so I was always moving. At the same time, you have to keep your mindset the same all the way through because if you don’t, that’s when you will feel yourself fall. Right now I’m just focused on getting 1% better every day. I can mess up but I need to make sure everything else was on point.”

He acknowledged that it is a new season with a different feeling and lots of new faces.

“I was talking to my dad and told him that it kind of felt like we just moved,” Moore said. “It feels like I transferred without transferring.”

He said he is bringing the same mentality to spring camp in 2023 but there are additional elements to take into account.

“We’re being asked to learn more with the new defense,” Moore said. “Last year we focused on learning our positions and knowing our jobs. This year it’s know your job and everybody else’s job. That’s a really big change.”

He said that as all of the defensive players grasp the entire defensive concept, he thinks it will actually making doing each job easier.

“You’ve got to be assignment-sound,” Moore said. “The goal is to know what everyone around you is doing to make your job easier. If you think of it that way, it becomes easier. It’s like investing your money now so you become rich later. It’s a different way of thinking.”

He’s using that model to push himself to be the best he can be right now.

“I need to be sharp and sound,” Moore said. “My eye progression needs to be on point. If I show for a run, I see myself as an extra guy on the field. A free safety is the deepest of the deep, but when it is time for a run, we have to know how to come down. I want to be sharp in that aspect. It’s about being a smart football player. If I can look at the offense and know what to expect, then I can act accordingly.”

Jaren Wilkey/BYU

BYU safety Malik Moore celebrates after making an interception during the 27-17 Cougar win over Arizona State at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. (Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo)


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