O' Man River

Now that senior wideout Gerald Jones is out two weeks or more with a broken bone in his hand, Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley is turning to a guy who reminds him of a song from the 1927 musical, Showboat.

The Vols are losing tremendous experience in going from Jones (46 receptions in 2009) to sophomore Zach Rogers (3 catches in 2009) but Dooley believes Rogers will be a solid replacement.

"I think Zach is one of the more underrated players we have," the head man said. "He had an excellent camp. He's a little bit like O' Man River. He just kind of does his job and does it well. He's not a flashy personality guy."

Apparently, Rogers' personality reminds the Vol boss of these Oscar Hammerstein lyrics penned 83 years ago:

O' man river

Dat o' man river

He mus' know sumpin'

but don't say nuthin'

He just keeps rollin'

He keeps on rollin' along.

Rogers is a 6-0, 178-pound sophomore from Nashville who runs well and catches well.

"He's faster than people think and he's got good hands," Dooley said. "He's just a good, dependable player. I have no issues with Zach."

Even so, Gerald Jones will be sorely missed while he recuperates from the injury suffered Saturday night vs. UT Martin.

"He's definitely out for Oregon and probably out the next game, too," Dooley said. "It's unfortunate but that's part of football."

Jones caught a team-high 6 passes for 86 yards in the opener before suffering his injury. Rogers caught one pass for seven yards in the game but he'll line up opposite senior Denarius Moore for the Vols' snap of Saturday night's game with Oregon.

"Zach will start, and he'll do good," Dooley said.

First-team quarterback Matt Simms thinks so, too.

"He's always been an important part (of the passing attack)," Simms said. "Now, with this injury, he's going to be out there in the front and we're going to rely on him a little bit more. He knows the offense very well, so playing different positions will come rather easy to him."

In addition to Rogers, three ultra-talented freshmen also are competing for snaps at wide receiver - Justin Hunter, Da' Rick Rogers and Matt Milton. Rogers had one catch for nine yards in Saturday's opener vs. UT Martin. Hunter, who missed eight days of practice due to injury in late August, did not manage a catch in Game 1. Nor did Milton, who is probably a step behind Rogers and Hunter in his development at this point.

"The freshman, we're going to have to bring 'em along a little quicker than we anticipated," Dooley said. "But that's why we signed 'em - because we don't have a lot of depth. It's really sort of a microcosm of a lot of other positions: We have some seniors and we have some freshmen."

Simms expressed keen disappointment in Jones' injury, more so for the player than for the team.

"It's really devastating for Gerald himself because he's worked so hard this offseason," the quarterback said. "Going into your senior year, you don't want to miss some of the biggest games of the year, especially this one coming up. I really do feel terrible for him.

"But now it's time for these freshmen to step up and make a lot of plays for us, and they're going to have to."

Tennessee also must find a replacement for Jones on punt returns. David Oku is listed as the No. 1 punt-return specialist for Game 2 but Dooley said that isn't carved in stone.

"I don't know if he is the No. 1 guy," the coach said. "We've got to figure all of that out. It's been a concern. The first day of spring practice I came off the field and I said, 'I'm nervous about our punt-return situation.' It showed."

Tennessee's punt-return work was abysmal in Game 1. Jones fumbled the first punt he attempted to field, losing six yards and the ball as UT Martin recovered at the Vol 36-yard line. He lost two more yards on his second return, then made fair catches on the next four UTM punts.

Following a Vol safety, Martin elected to punt the ball on the free kick from its 20-yard line. Oku muffed this one but Tennessee recovered 12 yards downfield.

With Jones sidelined and Oku having mishandled the only punt he has attempted to field this fall, Dooley isn't saying who'll handle the punt-return duties vs. Oregon.

"We'll see," he said, grinning smugly. "We're pulling out old high school film on some of these guys (returning punts) to re-evaluate where we are."

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