FOXBORO - Rookie linebacker Justin Rogers opened a few eyes during last Friday's preseason game against Tampa.
The former Southern Methodist standout led the Patriots with six tackles, four solo tackles, including a sack and a fumble recovery. Rogers was selected by the New England Patriots in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL Draft (180th overall).
Rogers is down playing his first NFL performance and told the media this week he has a long way to go before he can carve out a spot on the team.
"I wouldn't say I stood out, except for a couple plays," said Rogers, a three-year starter at SMU and an All-Conference choice since his junior campaign. "I have a long way to go."
Rogers, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound former college defensive lineman, credits the Patriots coaching staff and his teammates for his opportunities to make some plays in the game. He said, with good coaching advice, he was able to avoid being cut blocked by the running back during his pass rush and great pass coverage from the defensive backs allowed him to get to the quarterback for his sack.
"There was great coaching and the backs gave me a lot of time and that was the reason (the sack) happened," said Rogers, who had 9.5 sacks during his senior year as a defensive lineman for SMU.
On the fumble recovery, Rogers credits defensive nose guard Le Kevin Smith for making the big play. "Le Kevin made a great play from the back side and stripped the ball. I was in the right place, right time."
His first NFL game was a good learning experience and a good first step in his development as a linebacker. "Definitely the speed was a lot faster than college," said Rogers. "You have to know everything right off the bat. It felt good (to get the sack), but like I said, I got a long way to go. I made a lot of mistakes on the field. I just got to keep working."
While making the switch from defensive lineman to linebacker, Rogers said he's working on getting leverage from a standing position rather than a down-lineman position. "It's a little different you know, but after the first step it's all the same," he said.
Rogers has received a lot of tutelage from the veteran linebackers. "Roosevelt Colvin and (Mike) Vrabel have both been great because they're vets. They've been there, done that and they're willing to help Just watching the outside linebackers rush, I mean, there's so much to learn. I'm so far behind those guys, but I'll just take it day-by-day and just keep working."
Rogers is most likely competing against second year linebacker Pierre Woods for the final outside linebacker position. He said he's just focused on getting better as an individual and as a line-backing corp. and is not going to worry about making the team. "We have a great group of guys and we're all trying to find our niche on the team," he said."
Rogers, a native of Greenville, Texas, said he needs to do a better job stopping the outside running game. He said it was his fault not setting the edge which allowed Tampa running back Kenneth Darby to run for a 21 yard gain on the outside in the fourth quarter. "I didn't set the edge. That's one of the things I need to work on," he said.
Rogers said setting the edge is not difficult to learn. "I should have set the edge to begin with. It's just one of those things I'll have to learn." Rogers is spending a lot of time watching the game film to see how to improve his run defense. "You're actually watching yourself and you can critique yourself and it's a good learning experience."
Rogers will be prepared for every opportunity he gets this preseason.
"I didn't know before the game I was going to get so many opportunities, which were great," he said. "That's what I'm there for, to try to make as many plays as possible I have got to keep working, absolutely! I just have to get into the playbook. I made a lot of mistakes on the field and I'm not satisfied with that performance at all."
Rogers has signed a 3-year contract with the Patriots, including base salaries
of $285,000 (2007), $370,000 (2008) and $460,000 (2009).
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