All grown up

One Tennessee football player could tell the freshman receivers the importance of learning the playbook ... or he could simply show them.

A review of 2010 game film would reveal that Da' Rick Rogers, with a limited grasp of the playbook, caught just six passes for 41 yards - averaging a paltry 6.8 per reception - in the Vols' first eight outings. The light came on in Game 9, however, and he caught five passes for 126 yards - averaging a hefty 25.2 per reception - over the last five games.

Apparently, mastering his assignments was the spark that ignited Rogers' big finish last fall.

"Most definitely," he said following Wednesday's afternoon workout. "Just learning the playbook (was the key) so I could play fast and get comfortable."

Having learned that during his freshman year of 2010, Rogers hopes to convey this lesson to wideouts Vincent Dallas and DeAnthony Arnett during their freshman year of 2011.

"We tell 'em so much about the playbook: 'You've got to learn it, man. It's a different world out here,' so I tell them to study," Rogers said. "Study, study, study. You want to know the playbook. You want to be able to play fast. If you don't know what you're doing, you don't play as fast. That's when bad things happen."

Bad things like playing beneath your potential. Rated a 5-star prospect by Scout, Da'Rick Rogers was a ballyhooed bust the first two months of the 2010 season. That changed once he recognized he was nowhere near ready to step in when senior wideouts Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore concluded their careers.

"Being with my seniors for so long, I started to realize, 'Hey, I'm losing these guys in a few games. I've got to buckle down and get as much from their game as I can.' That's when I really got in my playbook," Rogers recalled. "I was like, 'I got to learn the game now.'"

Now that Jones and Moore are in NFL training camps, Tennessee desperately needs a big year from Rogers.

"Those guys made a lot of plays, especially Denarius," he said. "G-Jones was a third-down catching machine, and Luke (Stocker) was solid at tight end. We've got a lot to replace but I feel like we have a lot of talent, and a lot of willpower and discipline to get better."

Tennessee has a lot of talent at receiver, for sure. Rogers is complemented by fellow sophomore Justin Hunter, who averaged a mind-boggling 25.9 yards per catch last fall and parlayed seven of his 16 receptions into touchdowns. Basically, Hunter and Rogers may have to carry the offense this fall.

"We talk about it all the time," Rogers said. "We just say to keep a level head. We know what's ahead of us. If you drop a ball, don't get your head down. Just go on to the next play, and let's go to work."

Also back are junior Zach Rogers and sophomore Matt Milton. The former caught 14 passes last fall but the latter is still looking for his initial college reception. They're being pushed by the afore-mentioned freshmen, Dallas and Arnett.

"Vincent and DeAnthony were here all summer and they looked real good," Da'Rick Rogers said. "They're showing a lot of promise for us."

Promise doesn't win games, however, and no one knows that better than Rogers. He believes he is ready to deliver on his promise after growing up considerably during his first year on campus.

"As a person I've matured a lot," he said, turning uncharacteristically serious. "I've buckled down in school and life in general. Like Coach (Derek) Dooley says, 'Your attitude outside shows a lot in here.' When I have a good attitude out there and things are clicking, I roll in here."

Rogers' attitude must be outstanding because Dooley recently praised him for his "exceptional" work in the offseason. Again, the player believes maturity is the key.

"It was just growing up," Rogers said. "In high school football's real easy. You come here and it changes. It gets a lot harder. You go through a lot of struggles. You've got to become a man and work through those issues."

The inactivity and humility of riding the bench last September and October apparently helped Rogers grow into the man he is today. He says he learned a lot from his late-season success last November.

"If you work hard, it's going to happen for you," he said.

If Tennessee is going to improve on last season's 6-7 record, success had better happen early and often for Da'Rick Rogers this fall. He's suddenly one of the key figures on the Vol roster.

"It's just like high school - just repeated over and over again," he said. "It feels good but it's something you've got to step up to as a player."

Asked if he feels pressure to "step up" into a prominent role, he paused thoughtfully.

"Just a little bit," he said. "It happens. I've been in Neyland. I've been at LSU. It'll be all right."

Some players fear pressure. Others embrace it. Da'Rick Rogers appears to fall into the latter category.

"I want the pressure. Most definitely," he said. "With pressure comes something great. Pressure makes diamonds, so that's OK with me."

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