There is a split-second between the time a wide receiver makes his break and the time a defensive back reacts that creates "separation." If the ball arrives during this split-second, there is nothing the defensive back can do except hope the ball is off-target or dropped. This kind of precision enabled Ainge to hook up with Rogers seven times in Game 2 vs. Southern Miss.
"On a lot of those plays I made Saturday night Erik threw way before I came out of my break, and the ball was right there when I turned around," Rogers recalled. "He really makes it easy on the receivers by putting the ball where it needs to be."
That kind of precision is not easily achieved, of course. Ainge and Rogers hooked up just five times in 2006, so their timing was nothing special a few months ago.
"We threw a whole lot this summer, and it started to click this summer," Rogers noted. "Then it all started coming together during two-a-days."
Keeping the quarterback and receiver "on the same page" is more difficult at Tennessee than at many other programs. Vol wideouts are expected to read coverages and alter their route in mid-play if they pick up on certain keys. The quarterback, of course, has to see the same key for the play to work. This is not a simple process.
"Erik's job is a lot tougher than mine," Rogers noted. "I read the coverage and Erik reads it at the same time. We get on the same page and we can convert routes if it's different coverage. It's a lot more (complex) than it looks like going into every play."
Somehow, Ainge and Rogers have managed to stay in tune this fall. That's why Rogers is emerging as the "go-to guy" for 2007. That, he says, is simply a matter of "being there when Erik needs somebody on third and fourth down."
Like Rogers, junior wideouts Lucas Taylor and Josh Briscoe have made many of their catches this fall on timing routes. Strangely enough, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe says Ainge seems to have developed better timing with the three of them than he had in 2006 with veterans Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith.
"There were a couple of balls Austin caught (vs. USM) that Erik threw early and Austin was where he was supposed to be," Cutcliffe said. "That made me grin from ear to ear. We really weren't even quite there last year. That's progress."
Rogers said the progress is a credit to Cutcliffe, who "really emphasizes consistency and discipline. If we're where we need to be WHEN we need to be there we're going to make plays and score."
The departure of Meachem, Swain and Smith following the 2006 season left many observers predicting gloom and doom for the 2007 receiving corps. After managing just 24 catches among them in '06, Rogers, Taylor and Briscoe were considered sub-standard by most fans and media who follow the Vols.
"There's probably a little bit of a chip on our shoulders because everybody did doubt us going into the season," Rogers conceded. "They talked about how the young guys were going to play early because the older guys couldn't get it done. It's been a motivation, and I think we have had a little bit of a chip on our shoulders so far."
In Rogers' case, though, the chip is a small one. He is fulfilling a life-long dream by playing for the Big Orange.
"I'm having a lot of fun," he said. "It was always my dream to play here. Realizing my dream and seeing all the hard work pay off is a lot of fun."