Friday, January 2, 2009

For once, D.J. Moore lacks timing — Vanderbilt All-American chooses wrong time to announce he's leaving school for the NFL

Everybody figured that Wednesday's Music City Bowl would be the last game in a Vanderbilt uniform for D.J. Moore, the Commodore's brilliant all-everything player. Everybody also figured that Moore would have to do just about everything for the Commodores to upset Boston College.

As it turned out, Moore rolled his ankle in the second quarter after breaking up a deep ball that Ryan Hamilton grabbed for an interception.

Vanderbilt won the game without D.J. Moore. True freshman Casey Hayward played brilliantly, and nearly grabbed an interception late in the game before Myron Lewis got burned deep. And except for that one surrendered 55-yard TD, Lewis looked like an All-American himself, breaking on the ball and leaping for the game-ending interception.

It was a gutsy victory for the Commodores, and their first bowl victory since 1955. Announcer Bob Davie, who either doesn't prepare for games or has extremely poor short-term memory, thought it was the Commodores' first bowl victory ever. At any rate, it was a big story. So ESPN went down on the field after the game to talk to D.J. Moore.

Was he frustrated to be on the sideline with the game on the line? "I wanted to play," Moore said. "He (Coach Bobby Johnson) didn’t want me to play so it was very frustrating."

Yeah, Coach Johnson didn't want his best player to play. More like, Coach Johnson didn't want to injure a future first-round NFL draft pick. There's no doubt that Bobby Johnson cares about his players; in fact, he had worked with D.J. to give him an honest assessment of his potential and he knew midway through the season that this season would be D.J.'s last.

Down on the field after the game, the ESPN guy asked D.J. about the NFL. "Honestly I done done all I can do in college, I feel," D.J. said. "I wanted to be All-American, I wanted to be All-SEC, so this is my last year in college football."

So ESPN went back to the studio and talked about D.J. and how he'll make a good NFL cover man and return specialist. Mark May said he's got the size and speed and he's very physical and he can cover one-on-one and he's a return man.

"When you go to Vanderbilt," continued May, "they don’t go to bowl games, they don’t win bowl games, so for D.J. Moore to make that decision now is the proper decision because he’s definitely going to be drafted high in the NFL draft.

So D.J. stole the team's thunder. In what was and is a great moment for Vanderbilt, D.J. announces that he's going pro and the producer cuts to the studio so the so-called expert can talk about what a bad program Vanderbilt is and how D.J. should get out the first chance he can because the Commodores will surely return to their losing ways.

I like D.J. By all accounts he's a good kid. And he's a football player, not a public speaker or trained media spokesperson. Of course he didn't mean to take the spotlight from his teammates or cast aspersions on Coach Johnson. The ESPN sideline guy clearly had a tip and was gunning for a scoop and clearly D.J. wanted to tell the world he was going pro.

The timing was bad, that's all. The deadline to declare for the draft is two weeks away, and D.J. had already made his decision months ago. He could have waited another day or two, avoiding these questions like most every other player in this situation does and celebrating with his teammates, and then holding a press conference or releasing a statement later in the week.

During the postgame press conference, somebody asked Johnson about it.

Johnson said D.J. was not coming back to school and was going to start preparing for the NFL. "I want what’s best for him," Johnson said. "I really hope it works out for him. . . How he does in the NFL I really don’t know. He’s a football player."

As for Vanderbilt's future, ESPN's excellent SEC blogger Chris Low had this take after the Music City Bowl:

"The reality is that this has been building for several years at Vanderbilt. Johnson has upgraded the talent. His staff is outstanding, and these guys believe.

"Even with Moore leaving for the NFL, there's a lot of young talent in the program, making the future a bright one.

"And winning a bowl game will only help matters as Johnson and his assistants hit the recruiting trail in January.

"The next step is ramping up the offense, but the Commodores proved Wednesday they know how to win, and more importantly, have the fortitude to fight back from a disappointing finish to the regular season and make history."

Amen, brother.

And thanks, D.J., for helping turn the ship around.

No comments: