KNOXVILLE — Based on how Da’Rick Rogers immediately responded to the question, there’s no doubt in his mind what the University of Tennessee receiver needs to improve on most.
“Mainly route-running,” the former Calhoun (Ga.) High School star said after Wednesday’s second spring practice. “The physical-ness is there, the speed’s there, [I’ve] just got to get the speed of the game down pat and everything else will fall in place.
“I’ve got a long way to go, but [I’m] light years ahead of last year.”
Rogers was the Volunteers’ designated end-around runner last season and racked up more carries (16) than catches (11). His inexperience and the presence of then-seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore dictated that the most effective utilization of the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder was simply handing him the ball.
“He’s got size and he was really the best one at doing that,” UT coach Derek Dooley said of Rogers. “We didn’t do it just get him the ball — we did it because he was better at those plays than the other guys. He had some guys ahead of him that were further along. We had three guys that are not on our roster anymore that were catching a lot of balls.”
Said Rogers: “[My] route-running really wasn’t that good. As an athlete and a player they felt like they had to get the ball in my hands some way, and that was the easiest way.”
Moore and Jones’ absence, however, means Rogers and Justin Hunter likely step in as the top two targets for quarterback Tyler Bray. Rogers has taken the necessary steps this offseason, toning his body and trimming his 40-yard sprint time down to 4.45 seconds.
“I shaved off all the fat I had and really just torqued up so I can play at the speed I need to play at,” Rogers said. “There’s general pressure that comes with that, but as an athlete and a player and the love for the game, you’ve got to settle down and be like, ‘This is what I’ve got to do — go out and play football.’ I’m very pleased right now, but the sky’s the limit, and we’re only going to get better.”
Said Dooley: “I think it’s just experience. He runs good routes, but he’s got to be able to run them under any condition, whatever the secondary throws at him. That’s just going to come with time.”
As with Bray, the Vols are placing more responsibilities on their young crop of receivers like Hunter, Rogers, Matt Milton and Vincent Dallas.
“We’re putting everything on them,” Dooley said, “and those guys are doing really well right now. But, each day there’s more and more and more and more. This spring is going to be about putting as much as we can on them and see how they respond.”
Dallas, a 5-11, 173-pound early enrollee getting his first taste of college football this spring, could figure into the receiving rotation depending on his development and Vols’ need at the position.
“He’s doing OK,” said Dooley. “In his mind, he’s probably thinking he’s doing terrible, but I think he’s doing really well. He’s made some plays. He blends in. I always say when I don’t notice (freshmen), that’s good early on, and he’s been that way. I’m glad we have him.”
Correspondent Matt Dixon contributed to this report.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...