Da'Rick's day is coming

When a prospect enters college with five stars beside his name he expects to set the woods on fire as a true freshman. Fans expect the same.

So, the fact heralded wide receiver Da' Rick Rogers has just four catches for 22 yards midway through his first season at Tennessee must be a disappointment to him. It isn't to Vol coaches, however. They know his breakout game could arrive at any time ... perhaps this Saturday against Alabama.

"Da'Rick wants to play, and I personally have got to find a way to get him in the game and get him the ball," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said this week. "We're headed in that direction more and more. He's got too much talent to be sitting where he is. I'm going to make a conscious effort to make sure we get him the ball more."

Scout.com rated Rogers the No. 4 receiver prospect in America after he caught 84 passes for 1,641 yards (19.5 per catch) as a senior at Calhoun (Ga.) High School last fall. Naturally, he expected to make a splash in his first season with the Vols.

"They all think they're good enough to come in and play - even the 3- and 4-stars," receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "But when you're a 5-star, you expect to walk right in and do it."

This is a recipe for misery, of course, since very few players - even those with 5-star ratings - distinguish themselves as true freshmen. That's why Baggett has given his rookie receivers a little lecture each year since he became a coach.

"I tell 'em all the time: It's the same way at each level - high school to college, college to pros - each step is a big step and it takes a bit of an adjustment period," the Vol aide said. "Some guys don't understand that but I think Da'Rick understands that and he's handling it well.

"I'm sure he'd like to be a little further along than he is. I think we'd all like for him to be but he's taking it well. He's working hard at getting better. And, the more we can get him involved, the better he's going to get."

Probably making the slow start even more frustrating for Rogers is the fact that fellow rookie Justin Hunter is off to a blazing start. Regarded as "the other" freshman receiver when he arrived on campus, Hunter has exploded out of the gate, making 10 catches for 236 yards to date.

"The difference is the opportunities," Baggett said. "I tell people all the time: You've only got one football, and you can't get it to everybody every time. Justin has been in the right place at the right time. Da'Rick has been on the backside of some of the patterns when he's been in the game, so I think it's just by chance that that (his slow start) has happened."

At 6-3 and 215 pounds, Rogers has ideal size for a wideout. He doesn't run as fast or jump as high as the 6-4, 184-pound Hunter but he's much stronger and more physical.

"Da'Rick is big, he's strong and he's faster than you think he is," Baggett said. "He has big, strong hands and he's physical. He has excellent ball skills, makes good adjustments on the ball. He's got a lot of ability. We've just got to find his niche, bring him along and hope he matures tremendously before this season is over."

Like most freshmen, Rogers is struggling more with the mental adjustment to college football than the physical adjustment.

"He needs some work on reading defenses and understanding what we're trying to do on offense," Baggett said. "The mental part of the game is tough on these kids. When a play is called at the line of scrimmage you've got a split-second to send it from the mind to the feet, and sometimes that doesn't happen as quickly until you get a little experience."

Because there was so much hype surrounding Rogers' arrival, some Vol fans may be disappointed that he hasn't made a greater impact to date. His position coach is not.

"Da'Rick's coming along good," Baggett said. "Naturally, we'd like for him to come along faster but, with the two seniors (Gerald Jones, Denarius Moore) ahead of him, it's hard to give him as much playing time as we'd like to ... especially with (sophomore) Zach Rogers in there and the development of Justin Hunter."

Hunter has earned the spotlight with his sensational play in recent weeks. But Da'Rick Rogers may be sharing that spotlight before long.

"We understand that he has a lot of ability," Baggett said, "and we're going to try and feature some of the things he does well, see if we can't get the ball to him a little bit."

If the Vols manage to do that, Da'Rick Rogers just might remind people why he has those five stars beside his name.

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