KNOXVILLE — Another year, another big blow to Tennessee's football team right before the season.
Nearly a year to the day of safety Janzen Jackson's dismissal, the Volunteers must deal with the likely permanent loss of another star player.
This time it's star receiver Da'Rick Rogers. The junior and former Calhoun (Ga.) High School standout was suspended indefinitely Thursday for violating team policies.
"There were recent events, yes, that led to the ultimate decision," coach Derek Dooley said after the Vols practiced Thursday morning. "Our expectation is he's not [returning]. Certainly there's a process that we always respect, but our expectation is he's not."
Losing Rogers for any period of time would be a blow to Tennessee's offense, which has the potential to be a explosive. The Vols have a short time to adjust to Rogers' absence with the neutral-site opener against North Carolina State in Atlanta just a week away. Yet Dooley said Tennessee has planned all offseason for "any contingency," whether it be injury or suspension.
Given the nature of Rogers' tumultuous career in Knoxville, it's highly likely those plans included excluding Rogers.
"It didn't really faze the team at all," said linebacker Herman Lathers, the Vols' senior defensive leader. "We worked sometimes during the summer with him and sometimes without him. We've learned to cope and play without him, and we've got a lot of playmakers on offense.
"It doesn't bother us at all."
Rogers was the bright spot of Tennessee's offense last season. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound former five-star recruit caught 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the Southeastern Conference in receptions, finished second in yards and earned first-team All-SEC honors.
Since then, though, Rogers has been the center of controversy, both true and rumored. Speculation swirled in December that Rogers, who also was arrested and eventually not charged in connection with the infamous Bar Knoxville brawl two summers ago, had been suspended, and he was punished internally during winter workouts after an incident with a member of Tennessee's strength and conditioning staff.
He was absent from one practice in the spring amid rumors he was transferring to Georgia State.
Yet it's been all quiet since spring on the Rogers front, as he spent the summer working on his academics and getting himself into the best shape of his career.
"Once I heard the news [from Dooley before practice], I was a little disappointed," said senior cornerback Prentiss Waggner. "I was very surprised. I think Da'Rick was on the right path.
"I don't know the details about it right now, but I'm going to try to reach out to him and see how he's doing."
Dooley said he last spoke to Rogers on Wednesday, when he informed him of the suspension, and the coach declined to discuss any paths to a return.
"I don't want to get into the specifics on that," Dooley said. "The assumption is he's not with us, and it's very unlikely he will be. [The players] were fine. This is not the first incident of disruption, so to speak. I don't think there was the alarm, but they were fine and went out there like professionals."
After fellow receiver Justin Hunter and quarterback Tyler Bray were injured last season, the Vols are accustomed to losing valuable players.
"What happens happens," said senior receiver Zach Rogers. "We can't worry about off-the-field issues too much once they've happened. We've got to go out and compete with the guys that we have on the field right now."
Added Bray: "We're just focusing on the team right now. Losing a receiver never helps, but we've got two guys that are really good. We've got a mature group this year, and we'll be fine."
During training camp this month, Rogers visibly appeared to be more relaxed and focused. He joked around with his fellow receivers and even accidentally hit Zach Rogers in the helmet from close range while trying to throw a ball between his legs back to a manager during a drill. He explained the feeling when he last spoke to the media Saturday.
"I think that goes along with our general confidence," he said. "After the Kentucky game [abruptly ending the 2011 season], some switch just clicked in everybody — we've got to change what this is. This isn't Tennessee football. There's a standard to uphold, and we haven't been upholding that, so that's the main focus for everybody this year: Bring Tennessee back to what it is and what it's supposed to be."
Now it appears unlikely Rogers will be a part of that effort.
"You never like hearing bad news about one of your teammates, but like I said we're just trying to move on as best as we can," said tight end Mychal Rivera, who declared himself 100 percent recovered from a knee sprain. "No matter what it is, you're going to experience adversity in a football team, whether it's an injury or whether it's somebody getting suspended or something like that. You've just got to move on and continue to do what you need to do."
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 ...