Ravin' about Rogan

He helped make Florida's Brandon James the NCAA's most dangerous return specialist in 2007. So, when Stan Drayton raves about Tennessee's 2008 return specialist, you tend to take notice.

Vol sophomore Dennis Rogan may lack the blazing speed James possesses, but he exhibits the other traits that have made James perhaps college football's most feared return man.

"Rogan has the perfect mentality for kickoff returns," said Drayton, who oversees Tennessee's running backs in addition to the kick-return team. "He's a North/South guy, a tough nut. He loves it, and he understands the scheme. With those three things in combination, he's going to be a great returner for us this year, no question about it."

As noted earlier, Drayton knows a thing or two about great returners. Under his guidance, James last fall ranked No. 2 nationally in punt returns (18.1 yards) and No. 17 in kickoff returns (28.0 yards).

Although proud of his protege', Drayton downplays his role in James' 2007 success.

"Brandon James was one of my guys but you recruit those guys; there's not much you teach them," Drayton said with a laugh. "They either have it or not, and Brandon James is one of those returners who has it.

"All you had to do was make sure he caught the ball, then let the chains loose after that."

Drayton's modesty is admirable but misplaced. Since joining the UT staff in January, he has coached his kick-return team just as hard as he coached his running backs.

"Special teams is a third of the game," Drayton said. "It's just as important as anything else."

Rogan proved the importance of special teams as a true freshman last year. After coming from nowhere to win the Vols' punt and kickoff return duties at midseason, he averaged 9.7 yards on the former and 29.5 on the latter. Although he had too few runbacks to qualify for the SEC statistics in either category, his kickoff-return mark would have ranked No. 2 in the league.

Continued improvement in special-teams play was an emphasis at Tennessee this spring. Drayton noticed.

"Our coaches do a phenomenal job," he said. "The emphasis starts right at the top, with Coach (Phillip) Fulmer. He's directly involved with it."

Not as involved as Drayton, though. The new assistant coach's hard-nosed approach to special teams has caught the eye of his fellow Vol aides.

"Stan's very intense, very thorough," Fulmer said. "He has a background with the pros and the colleges, and he's very intense with the special teams. He's definitely thorough and a very good communicator with it."

Defensive coordinator John Chavis also is impressed with Drayton's ability to instill his enthusiasm for special-teams play into Tennessee's players.

"They've been eager to work," Chavis said. "When they get excited, it translates into an opportunity to make a step in the right direction. I feel we're a lot farther along than we were last year, and I think our special teams were much improved last year."

The level of a program's special-teams play usually is linked to the level of commitment exhibited by the athletes involved. Drayton says the Vols showed him plenty of commitment to the return game during the just-concluded spring practice.

"Our players have bought into it, the mentality of it all," he said. "They understand what we're trying to do and they understand the mentality of what it takes to be good. There's a lot of unselfish football players and starters on those teams, and that's great to see."

Drayton is not in Knoxville to "fix" Tennessee's special teams. Even without him, the Vols averaged a hefty 24.4 yards per kickoff return last fall, ranking No. 1 in the SEC and No. 11 nationally.

"I'm excited about my involvement with special teams, which is kickoff returns," he said. "Those guys were good last year. They started off a little rocky but they finished top-10 or so in the country.

"I'm just adding on to what already was in place here."

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