Don't forget Zach

Big Brother is watching ... but he's planning on playing quite a bit, too.

Though only a rising junior, Zach Rogers is the grizzled veteran of Tennessee's receiving corps. As a result, he's kind of a big-brother figure to the other scholarship receivers - sophomores Justin Hunter, Da' Rick Rogers and Matt Milton, along with mid-term freshman Vincent Dallas.

Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers are having superior springs, which is why they're working with the first team in practice. Milton is making a big push after failing to catch a pass in 2010, and Dallas is getting plenty of opportunities to show what he can do. Although Rogers is doing more watching than participating these days, he's confident that his versatility will get him some playing time this fall ... just as it did last fall.

"I'm kind of a utility guy right now," he said. "Whatever position they need me to play - whether it's slot or outside - I'm the guy that can go in there and fill that role.

"I'm also helping these young guys out, like Vincent and Da'Rick and Justin. If they have any questions, they know they can come to me, whether it's playbook or whatever. I'm trying to be the leader of this group right now."

At 6-0 and 174 pounds, Zach lacks the imposing physique of Da'Rick Rogers (6-3, 211) and the blazing speed of Hunter (4.42 in the 40). Still, he has shown he can be a productive receiver. He caught 14 passes last fall - two fewer than Hunter, three more than Da'Rick Rogers - and posted a solid 14.8 yards-per-catch average.

Although Tennessee has several young wide receivers who may be more physically gifted, Zach Rogers has an edge in flexibility - positional flexibility, at least. The fact he can play multiple spots is big.

"Exactly," he said. "Whatever will get me on the field is what I'm going to do."

Because he is a dependable route-runner, Rogers is probably best suited to the slot. Still, he has the speed to get deep when he's lined up wide. He posted the Vols' second-longest reception of 2010, a 72-yarder vs. UAB.

"Slot's what I've been playing since I've been here, so I'm a little more used to that," he said. "At the same time, I like going outside and going deep, too.

"The two positions are not much different. There are a couple of different routes. But, once you get the scheme of the whole offense, it's going to be interchangeable, whether you play outside or in."

Although he's still a wiry guy, Zach Rogers is not as little and brittle as he used to be.

"I've gotten a little stronger this year and a lot faster," he said. "Coach Mac (strength coach Tom McKeefery) came in here and did a great job in the offseason."

In addition to a stronger physique, Rogers has a stronger attitude this year.

"I have the overall mentality of coming out here every day, doing my best and being a leader for this wide receiver group," he said.

That receiver group produced some shining moments in Saturday's first spring scrimmage. The 6-foot-5 Milton caught three passes for 35 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-4 Hunter caught three for 44 yards and a TD. The 6-foot-3 Da'Rick Rogers caught two passes for 79 yards and two TDs.

"We had a few big plays," Zach Rogers noted. "The quarterbacks trust the receivers in throwing it up. We've got some big guys out here that can make plays. That's what we've got to keep doing."

Although Tennessee must replace last season's top three receivers - Gerald Jones (55 catches), Denarius Moore (47) and tight end Luke Stocker (39) - there is reason for optimism regarding the 2011 offense.

"We're much more mature this year," Rogers said. "The O-line is stepping up big. They got that first year under their belts. A lot of them were young last year but this year we're depending on them to carry the load because they've got a bunch of big bodies and a lot of experience.

"We're looking forward to this season."

One reason the Vols are eager for the 2011 season to start is the way the 2010 season ended. A gut-wrenching finish caused Tennessee to suffer a 30-27 double-overtime setback to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl last December.

"Our goal is to be the best we can be," Rogers said. "Last year ended with disappointment in the bowl game, so I would say we're using that as hunger and motivation to come out strong in the opener."


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