Dennis the (big-play) menace

Tennessee's Dennis Rogan expects to make a big play every time he gets his hands on the football. This spring, often as not, he's right.

Rogan was at it again Saturday at Neyland Stadium, recording an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown in Tennessee's second full-scale scrimmage of the spring. He also had a 53-yard punt return. A week earlier, in Spring Scrimmage No. 1, he posted a 30-yard punt return.

None of this should've been too surprising. Dennis Rogan showed a knack for big plays as a true freshman last fall. He returned a kickoff 31 yards in Game 3 at Florida. He returned a kickoff 29 yards in Game 8 vs. South Carolina. He returned a kickoff 78 yards in Game 10 vs. Arkansas. He returned a kickoff 41 yards and a punt 45 yards in Game 11 vs. Vanderbilt, then returned a kickoff 29 yards in Game 14 vs. Wisconsin.

Rogan averaged 29.5 yards per kickoff return in 2007, a figure that has been topped by only three Vols in the past 40 years – by Bobby Majors (30.1 in 1971), by Randall Morris (29.8 in 1983) and by Dale Carter (29.8 in 1990).

Obviously, Rogan's level of success as a return man requires elusiveness and vision. A positive mindset is a plus, too.

"I think when anybody's out there they expect to make a play," he said. "That's kind of running through your head even before the ball is snapped. You're EXPECTING to make a play."

Rogan played sparingly as a backup safety in '07, recording 19 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. The 5-10, 185-pounder is making the transition to cornerback this spring. He certainly looked comfortable Saturday, jumping a quick hitch route and taking the interception 82 yards the other way for a touchdown.

"We were in cover A," he said matter of factly. "I read the three-step (drop) and just broke on it."

Rogan is quick to break on the ball this spring because he knows superstar safeties Eric Berry and Demetrice Morley are behind him to clean up any mistakes he might make.

"With those two safeties, you don't have to worry about biting on a double-route or whatever," he said. "You can feel comfortable and just break on anything because you know your help back there in those two guys."

Rogan seemed surprisingly unaffected by his big interception return. Conversely, defensive coordinator John Chavis celebrated by high-stepping down the sidelines like a prize Tennessee Walking Horse.

When was the last time he reacted so animatedly?

"Probably the last time we had a return that long," Chavis said. "He (Rogan) did a great job breaking on the ball, got us out of a bad situation that we put ourselves in. He just did a tremendous job."

Watching the coordinator react in such exaggerated fashion provided a lift for Rogan and his fellow defenders.

"Oh, man, it just pumped the whole defense up," he said. "When you see a coach getting loud ... it gets us flying to see Coach out there with a lot of passion and energy."

Just 18 months ago Rogan was a senior tailback at Knoxville's Fulton High School, rushing for a mind-boggling 2,876 yards and 44 touchdowns. He hoped to play offense for Tennessee but has been a defensive back from Day 1.

"I like it," he said. "I don't like it better (than tailback) but I like it."

Whereas the switch from tailback to safety took time, the transition from safety to corner seems to be seamless.

"I'm more comfortable at corner right now just because I've played there a lot more," Rogan said. "Coach (Slade) is talking about me getting some reps at safety but I haven't yet."

Wherever he plays, this versatile Vol will be making big plays. Clearly, he has the knack.


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