The Da'Rick distraction

The soap opera surrounding one Tennessee football player took an unexpected twist today. Sign in or subscribe now to read the reaction of his Vol teammates.

Some distractions are minor ... like dandruff. Other distractions are major ... like hemorrhoids.

Sophomore receiver Da' Rick Rogers is unquestionably a distraction for the Tennessee football team, so here's the key: Is he merely a flake or is he a real pain in the butt?

If he's merely a flake, his big-time talent can help the Vols post a winning season in 2012 and maybe crack the top 25. If he's a pain in the butt, however, the problems he causes will more than offset the big plays he provides.

Rogers arrived at Tennessee as a heralded five-star recruit and has stayed in the headlines ever since. According to various sources, his transgressions have included slacking in practice, cussing his former position coach (Charlie Baggett), celebrating the fact Tennessee failed to qualify for a third-tier bowl last winter, throwing a weight at the strength coach and posting negative comments about UT on his Twitter page. Rogers supposedly was suspended from the team during a portion of the offseason, something head coach Derek Dooley has declined to confirm or deny.

Now Rogers is in the headlines again. He tweeted Wednesday night that he would be meeting with the media after today's practice but did not show up for the workout. He reportedly is hinting about a transfer to Georgia State in Atlanta, located 61 miles from his hometown of Calhoun, Ga.

"We just took it like Da'Rick was injured. We're a man down but we're still going to come out and give it our all."

Nyshier Oliver

If the goal is to draw attention to himself, Rogers has succeeded. Rather than discuss the progress of spring practice, teammates were peppered with questions about their wayward teammate as they left Haslam Field earlier today. To their credit, they showed exemplary composure.

"It is what it is," wideout Zach Rogers said. "When we come out here we don't worry about what happens off the field. We're going to come out here and work with the players that are here, and that's what we did today."

Asked if he finds the Da'Rick circus distracting, Zach Rogers replied: "Not at all."

On a broader scale, many of the older Vols talked about team unification and forging together as one with who's in uniform.

"Everybody has to stick together," center Alex Bullard said. "Not just the O-line. All 100 or so players on the team have to stick together. There's going to be times when the offense is clicking and the defense may be struggling. We might have to put up 42 points to win the game. There will be times when the offense is struggling and the defense has to create stops and turnovers. That's all part of being together and being a team, clicking together.

"All 100 guys have to be 100 percent in."

One of Da'Rick Rogers' closest friends on the team, fellow receiver Nyshier Oliver, said everything was cool when he spoke with his teammate on Wednesday.

"I haven't spoken to him today ... haven't seen him today," Oliver said. "I seen him yesterday, and everything was fine yesterday. That's all I can tell you guys."

Given that everything was fine on Wednesday, Oliver was taken aback when Rogers failed to show for Thursday's practice. So were his teammates.

"Yes, it surprised us, but we want to come out here every day and give it the best we got," Oliver said. "We just took it like Da'Rick was injured. We're a man down but we're still going to come out and give it our all."

Asked how Rogers' absence impacted the rest of Tennessee's thin wideout corps, Oliver shrugged.

"It didn't really affect us," he said. "It's all about moving on and weathering the storm. This (absent player) could happen during the season at any time. As you could see, it happened last season (when a Game 3 knee injury sidelined Justin Hunter for the final nine games)."

Tight end Mychal Rivera believes the Da'Rick Rogers melodrama is only a distraction to the Vols if they allow it to become one. That's the message he would share with his teammates.

"Just to push on and stay focused on what you can (contribute)," Rivera said. "If those things are out of your hand, you can't focus on 'em. Focus on today, focus on the first play, then move on to the next play. Wash it clean and do what you need to do."

Ultimately, only one Tennessee player can help Da'Rick Rogers return to the team and make a positive contribution. That's Da'Rick Rogers himself.

"We've got faith in Da'Rick. Whatever he decides to do, we're going to go with him," Oliver said. "He's our teammate, he's our family, and we're just going to work with it like that."

Da'Rick Rogers warming up at Tuesday's morning practice at Haslam Field in Knoxville.

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