Da'Rick Rogers: 'Got to step up'

It's Babe Ruth without Lou Gehrig, Doc Blanchard without Glenn Davis, Kobe Bryant without Shaquille O'Neal, Jerry Rice without Joe Montana, Ernie without Bernie, Batman without Robin.

Whenever a dynamic duo is divided, the remaining partner faces a difficult adjustment. And so it is for Tennessee wide receiver Da' Rick Rogers now that Justin Hunter's ACL tear has cost the Vols one half of the most acrobatic receiving tandem in college football.

There will be more pressure to stretch the field vertically.

There will be more pressure to make big plays.

There will be more pressure to be the go-to guy on third down.

There will be more pressure to carry the offense when the ground game is stalled.

There will be more pressure from opposing defenses who can afford to double-team him now that Hunter is out.

If Da'Rick Rogers is feeling these pressures, however, he did a world-class job of hiding it following Tuesday's practice. Characteristically unflappable, he was his usual carefree and candid self as he enlightened and entertained a circle of reporters.

Asked if the offense has changed in Hunter's absence, Rogers replied: "Just a little bit but we're still the same offense. We're going to run the ball hard and we're going to throw it down the field. But it's always a little different without having a playmaker like Justin on the field."

Asked how his approach has changed, Rogers answered: "Not at all. My game plan is always the same ... make plays for this team. Whether I'm the only guy up there or if it's me, Justin and (Atlanta Falcons standout) Julio Jones are up there, it's always the same."

Asked how Hunter's absence affects his role, Rogers replied: "It makes me be depended on a lot more. I'm probably going to get a lot more balls thrown my way, be catching more double-teams and more brackets (from the defense). But one thing I always live on is working hard and good competition."

Asked what he has told the other receivers that might help them pick up the slack in Hunter's absence, Rogers answered: "Just the same thing we've been telling 'em all year: You're an injury away (from playing a key role). When somebody goes down you got to step up a little bit. So I tell 'em, 'You got to step up.'"

Rogers learned that lesson when he was a freshman last fall. Preseason injuries to seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore forced Rogers and Hunter to play key roles as rookies in 2010. Now an injury to Hunter may force a rookie to emerge in 2011. If so, a good bet would be freshman DeAnthony Arnett, who caught eight passes for 59 yards over the final three quarters of Game 3 versus Florida.

"He played pretty good," Rogers said. "He had eight catches, catching all the underneath stuff out of the slot. He's a real quick, shifty guy, so those are a lot of plays he can make."

A home-run threat each time he touched the ball, Hunter averaged a whopping 25.9 yards per catch as a freshman and 18.5 this fall. His ability to stretch the field vertically will be sorely missed. Asked who might fill that void, Rogers answered without hesitation.

"Everybody," he said. "I'm stretching it. Zach (Rogers) is stretching it. Matt (Milton) is stretching it. Everybody's got to stretch it now because everybody's got to have vertical speed."


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