"I'm really excited with Dennis Rogan," secondary coach Larry Slade said. "Brent is going to have to fight like heck to get his position."
Tennessee coaches supposedly considered Rogan too small for the rigors of college football when he was a senior at Knoxville's Fulton High School. They eventually bowed to hometown pressure, though, and signed the 5-10, 185-pound tailback to a scholarship.
He immediately made a mark in preseason drills last August with his kick-return prowess, prompting head coach Phillip Fulmer to admit, "I didn't realize Rogan was that good."
The flashy freshman wound up making a tremendous impact on special teams last fall, leading the Vols in kickoff returns (29.5-yard average) and punt returns (9.7-yard average). He returned a kickoff 78 yards against Arkansas. He made three crucial plays – a 45-yard punt return, a 41-yard kickoff return and a touchdown-saving tackle on a Vanderbilt kick return – in a come-from-behind defeat of the Commodores. He also had a 31-yard kickoff return vs. Florida.
When injuries depleted Tennessee's secondary, Rogan found himself thrust into the playing rotation at strong safety, despite his lack of size and experience. He responded with six tackles vs. South Carolina in Game 9, three tackles each vs. Louisiana-Lafayette in Game 10, vs. Kentucky in Game 12 and vs. LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
In an effort to get more size at the safety positions, Tennessee is giving 6-0, 200-pound DeAngelo Willingham a look at free safety this spring and giving Rogan a chance to win a first-team job at cornerback, where his lack of size is less of a hindrance.
"We may still play him a little bit at safety as we keep working on our depth," Slade said. "We've got to do some things to make us flexible, so we can have depth in those two areas (corner and safety)."
Actually, Tennessee's depth at cornerback is excellent. Vinson started the last 10 games of 2007 at left corner and Willingham started the last seven at right corner. Marsalous Johnson, who started the first seven games at right corner, will rejoin the mix once he is sufficiently recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him last October. Antonio Gaines, who started the first two games of '07 at left corner, should be a factor as he rounds back into playing shape. Throw in Rogan, and it's apparent the Vols have plenty of options at the cornerback spots.
"That's where we kind of have a problem," Slade said. "DeAngelo is the third safety and Rogan would probably be the fourth safety. That's why it's great to have those guys that can play either."