Rogers' Talents Exposed

Is rookie linebacker Nick Rogers really such a find? When you compare his measurable physical tools to those of first-round draft choice Napoleon Harris, it's a wonder Rogers wasn't drafted sooner than the sixth round, and the coaches love his mental approach.

One of the things you look for when a team is having the kind of season the Vikings have had thus far is the development of your younger players, especially those in a position to improve your team in the future.

Rookie linebacker Nick Rogers is such a player.

A sixth-round pick by the Vikings earlier this spring, Rogers was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference defensive end for current Vikings defensive line coach George O'Leary at Georgia Tech. He did play some linebacker — moving between both weakside linebacker and strongside linebacker as an underclassman — in college but really settled into a down weakside end role his final two seasons with the Yellow Jackets.

Having been his head coach at Georgia Tech, O'Leary had plenty to do with the Vikings drafting Rogers, whom the team initially projected to the middle linebacker position.

Prior to his emergence as the starter on the strong side, Rogers worked in the middle and on the weak side.

"He's instinctive," head coach Mike Tice said recently. "He's got a nose for the football. He always seems to be around the ball."

Quite frankly, "being instinctive" was the missing ingredient at the strongside linebacker position when second-year man Patrick Chukwurah was getting most of the reps.

Chukwurah is a terrific athlete, but it's become quite clear that he lacks the feel for the game to be an effective, all-around player at the linebacker position. He can still be an impact-type player, but his role probably needs to be a little more limited and more well-defined.

Meanwhile, Rogers seems to show an unusual feel for the game for a guy who hasn't even played the position that long. There might still be some hesitation in his play, but in general he is very positive to the ball. He's extremely quick and explosive closing on the ball carrier.

You can coach a player to read and diagnose, but you can't really teach him to "be instinctive." And it appears that Rogers already possesses that important quality.

As he continues to develop he will still make some mistakes, but the coaching staff has publicly committed to working through that.

"He doesn't beat himself up when he makes a mistake," Tice said. "As a young player, that's a great quality to have."

It's also a quality that not all his young players have demonstrated.

"We have some young players on our team that beat themselves up when they make mistakes, and you can't do that," Tice added. "You've got to move forward. The sooner you can realize that as a young player the quicker you'll be better."

The other quality that Rogers appears to have is that he seems to learn when he makes mistakes.

"He doesn't dwell on mistakes," Tice said. "When he makes a mistake he learns from it. And very infrequently does he make the same mistake. He doesn't make the same mistake a lot, and that's good as a young player."

The other thing that can't be taught is his quickness, speed, flexibility and athletic talent.

From a physical ability standpoint, Rogers has what coaches are looking for. He's a terrific all-around athlete with nice size, strength and movement skills. He runs well and has explosive closing speed. He's strong for his size. He can take on blockers at the point of attack, but he also has the quickness and agility to run right by them and make plays in the backfield. His background as a defensive end gives him a little added experience when blitzing off the corner, where he shows good technique, leverage and closing speed. He also shows good hips and flexibility and can drop off into coverage.

In fact, despite being a late-round pick Rogers is every bit as athletic as most linebackers taken in the entire 2002 NFL draft.

If you compare him side by side with the top linebacker in this year's draft — Oakland's Napoleon Harris — it's remarkable how similar they are in terms of measurable physical tools.

Harris was the Raiders' first-round pick (23rd overall), while Rogers was taken 177th overall by the Vikings.

Here's a tale of the tape, if you will:

Harris: 6-foot-2-7/8, 253 pounds, 27 reps at 225 pounds, 1.59 10-yard dash time, 2.62 20-yard dash time, 4.53-4.71 40-yard dash time, 34.0-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-7 broad jump, 4.44 short-shuttle time, 11.80 long-shuttle time, and 7.15 three-cone drill time.

Rogers: 6foot-2, 252 pounds, 22 reps at 225 pounds, 1.57 10-yard dash time, 2.63 20-yard dash time, 4.49-4.75 40-yard dash time, 36.0-inch vertical jump, 9-foot-9 broad jump, 4.19 short-shuttle time, 11.71 long-shuttle time, and 7.02 three-cone drill time.

Pretty similar numbers, huh? In fact, they even had the exact same above-average Wonderlic Test score.

The primary difference is that Harris was a first-round pick, he got first-round money and the Raiders cleared a starting spot for him when they released Greg Biekert. Rogers was a late-round pick who needed to make the transition from being a down end at Georgia Tech.

"Remember, he played with his hand down in college, so it's quite a good story to see him having so much success," Tice said.

About six months ago you might have read in this same space that Rogers looked like a good linebacker prospect at "Mike" or "Sam" who just needs some grooming.

Still a work in progress, he's getting that grooming and looks to be on track to developing into a quality starter in the emerging Vikings defense.



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