Strong secondary looms

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The news of Da'Rick Rogers' indefinite suspension comes just short of a calendar year after that of starting safety Janzen Jackson (Aug. 24, 2011) and his dismissal from the Tennessee football program.

And just as in 2011, Rogers leaves a massive hole on the Vol roster, especially given that Tennessee is on the cusp of facing one of the better passing defenses in all of college football.

"This is one of the best secondaries that we will face, probably one of the best in college football," coach Derek Dooley said Thursday. "You have a first-rounder and probably three or four NFL Draft guys and they make you pay for an inaccurate throw, they make you pay for a mistake and they set you up and recover and make a play on a ball that other people can't."

That first-rounder comes in the form of 6-foot-3, 194-pound junior cornerback David Amerson. The ESPN first-team All-American and winner of the Jack Tatum Award, which is given to the nation's top defensive back, finished last season with 13 interceptions, which set the ACC and NC State single-season record for interceptions and ties for second in FBS history.

Without Rogers, the Vols will have to rely heavily on Justin Hunter, Zach Rogers, Mychal Rivera and junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. Rivera, who is now fully recovered from a knee tweak in the preseason, has already taken notice of Amerson in the film room, along with junior quarterback Tyler Bray.

"If you look they have one of the best corners in the NCAA," Rivera said. "You can't take too big of a risk with that because you will throw an interception. Tyler understands he needs to go through his progression and do what he needs to do."

The Vols wide receiving corps has been hard at work scouting the NC State secondary, which without Rogers, will pose a massive challenge to the Tennessee wide receivers.

"We have game prepped them now and we have been ready to play them for a while," Zach Rogers said. "They are a veteran group, especially the secondary, which is what we have been focusing on. No. 1 is a great player and really all of them are great savvy guys. We are going to have our work cut out for us."

However big a challenge NC State may be, wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw says that each week it is necessary to scheme around strengths and weaknesses to be successful on the perimeter and in the passing game.

"We game plan every team based on their coverages and their personnel," Hinshaw told InsideTennessee. "Every week we do a detailed situation of the secondary and also their nickel and dime people and who come in the game and who we can take advantage of and be able to get the ball in those peoples hands and be able to win. That is part of our job every single week."

However talented the NC State secondary may be, scheming against some of the top defensive backs in America is nothing new to offensive coordinator Jim Chaney squared of with first-rounders like Dre Kirkpatrick, Morris Claiborne and Stephan Gilmore.

Luckily Chaney has another weapon back at his disposal with a healthy Rivera. Especially after the Vols after lost numerous tight ends to injury during the preseason, including Brendan Downs (knee) and Joseph Ayers (ankle) on top of a previous injury to freshman Justin Meredith (hamstring).

"Physically I am 100 percent going into this game," Rivera said Thursday. "I am ready. I have been able to do everything for the past four or five practices and everything has been well. I was taking it easy for about a week and now I am right back to it."

Rivera has yet seen the game plan for NC State, but it could mean increased targets for the senior junior college transfer.

"It might or it might not. I am just going to continue to play my role and let Tyler throw the ball wherever he needs to."

Watch as Rivera addressed the media following Thursday's practice at Haslam Field:

Chris Price is a staff writer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously an intern for the site for two years before graduating from the University of Tennessee. He joined the InsideTennessee team in 2009.

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