The physical drills of the NFL combine — the carnival-style event where hundreds of hopeful and hypeful former college football players are tested and prodded and quizzed and clocked — starts in earnest today.
For several prospects, the biggest job interview of their lives began Friday.
For Da'Rick Rogers, the supremely talented and frequently troubled wide receiver, the process started with admissions and declarations. And if honesty is the best policy, well, Rogers should have been a policy major.
The former Calhoun (Ga.) High School, University of Tennessee and Tennessee Tech star wide receiver has the ability to be an NFL star. The only thing that has stopped Da'Rick to this point is Da'Rick.
Rogers admitted that he failed three drug tests during his time with the Volunteers, prompting his dismissal and his one record-setting season in Cookeville. He also said he has quit smoking marijuana and is focused on delivering on his five-star potential.
"Those are things that I've been working on since I've left Tennessee. It was a real humbling experience for me," Rogers told the huge media gathering in Indianapolis on Friday. "I feel like it did help me in the long run. It's sad that it happened like that. For me, personally, it made me change who I was and what I was doing wrong."
Is he a changed player or a player hoping to change public opinion? That's for the high-priced collection of NFL talent evaluators to decide this week and in the coming days before the April draft. Amid the interviews and the physical challenges and the IQ tests, scouts have to decide whether potential will meet production and whether talent can trump tantrums.
In the case of three former Tennessee Vols, All-Pro possibilities can be seen through the cloudy haze of doubt and immaturity.
There's Rogers, who was a top-10 national high school recruit out of Calhoun and who led the SEC in receiving yards as a sophomore at Tennessee. His gifts, including his 6-foot-2, 203-pound frame that will test well in the speed drills this weekend, are clear, and his talent transfers directly into today's pass-first, pass-always NFL that covets big-bodied wide receivers.
So do the gifts of Cordarrelle Patterson, the one-year Vols wonder who likely will put on a show this weekend. Patterson has Rogers-like size at 6-3, 205 pounds and surely will clock a sub-4.4 time in the 40-yard dash. Looking at Patterson's array of skills -- last year he became the first college football player to score TDs catching, rushing and returning kicks and punts in the same season since 2008 -- physically put him atop the list of wide receivers in this draft.
So barring a major interview miscue, Patterson turned his short stint in Knoxville into a lottery ticket.
Arguably the combine's biggest enigma that used to wear orange will be quarterback Tyler Bray.
From the very start of his time in Knoxville, it has been obvious that Bray has serious NFL physical skills.
Last week, NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said Bray likely will be a second- or third-round pick. If Bray shows the maturity that every UT fan has craved from him the last three seasons in the interview process and can convince a team -- any team -- that his five-cent head has made major progress toward his million-dollar arm, he could sneak into the first round.
Seriously. He needs to be prepared to answer some questions about bottle throwing, back tats and loco dances with grace and charm, though.
Does that translate into a first-round pick? Maybe. Does it translate into a big risk in Bray's case? Absolutely.
That makes it par for the course at the combine.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...