March 29, 2012

Dooley, teammates react to Rogers' absence

Da'Rick Rogers didn't participate in Tennessee's practice Thursday morning on Haslam Field, and the enigmatic wide receiver's future with the Vols is unclear with his latest suspension from team activities.

Head coach Derek Dooley confirmed what myriad reporters already had seen --- that the rising junior wideout from Calhoun, Ga., did not join his teammates on the field early this morning after first rousing attention to his situation when Rogers tweeted late Wednesday night, implying he was heading to "Georgia State."

"I wouldn't call it anything other than he's got to do some things and when he does he can come back and when he doesn't, he's not going to be here." - Derek Dooley

"Da'Rick, he's got some things he's got to do internally and when he does them, he'll be back," Dooley said less than one minute into his post-practice remarks. "It's kind of an internal, team issue. And it's something he's just got to finish doing some stuff and when he does, he'll be back."

Dooley did, however, say that Rogers would not rejoin the team if he did not complete the unspecified requirements for reinstatement to team activities.

Rogers has, indeed, told some close to him that he wishes to transfer to Georgia State, but that scenario is highly unlikely for a multitude of reasons. Rogers would still have to sit out a year if he chose to leave Tennessee for the GSU program, which is transitioning to full Football Bowls Subdivision status after an acclimation period following the launch of the fledgling program. Additionally, Rogers would have to improve his academic standing, according to sources who have indicated Rogers would have been ineligible for a bowl game had the Vols' season not ended last November in a loss at Kentucky.

Dooley, who informed Rogers of his guidelines for remaining a full participant in team activities Wednesday afternoon, refused to label Rogers' absence a suspension and also said that Rogers had not expressed to the Vols' staff his reported desire to transfer.

"I wouldn't call it anything other than he's got to do some things and when he does he can come back and when he doesn't, he's not going to be here," Dooley said. "That's my impression, yes [that Rogers wishes to remain a Vol]. Yes. He's got some things he's got to do to come back and when he does them, he'll be back. It's really not a complex issue. It really isn't.

"I don't have any knowledge of him wanting to leave. He's never told me that, or indicated that to me or anybody else."

While a variety of stories --- some substantiated; others unable to be verified --- have dogged Rogers, he has starred on the field. Earning consensus All-Southeastern Conference honors in 2011, the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Rogers amassed 67 catches for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. He has averaged 15.5 yards per reception and scored 11 touchdowns on 78 career receptions.

Multiple sources told that Rogers was suspended in the offseason, something that Dooley refused to address Sunday in his pre-spring press conference.

"I'm not going to go into all the individuals. We had a lot of guys who missed a workout or two whether it be for academic reasons, whether it's discipline or injury," Dooley said. "We had a ton of that. It's managing a hundred guys. Everyday's a challenge and I don't want to revisit our last eight weeks."

Instead, Dooley is focused on the present and those players who were present Thursday for the Vols' first work in pads.

"Well, we deal with issues all the time guys. We've got a hundred guys we manage and if you have kids, you have some days that are good and some days that are bad," Dooley said. "You're motivating guys, you're developing them, you're disciplining them. It happens all the time. I think it's probably because of who he is and the success he had, it makes it a bigger story. And I understand that. That's just part of coaching. You're never going to have a time where you don't have problems.

"Listen, my worries when I'm out on the practice field are the 90 guys out there and that's all I can focus on and that's what the team is focused on. It's just a guy with an injury. We can't worry about the guys that are not out there and we come in the next day and try to reshape things the next day and see who's out there."

If Rogers completes whatever Dooley has set forth, he could rejoin the team immediately the third-year coach said. Dooley also likened Rogers' absence to an injury or Clearinghouse issue, saying it's not always easy to discern when a player will return.

"Not necessarily. There's a lot of times you have no idea when they're coming back. We've got guys that are having academic issues. I don't know when they're coming back," Dooley said. "We've got guys that have Clearinghouse issues; don't know when they're coming back. You just worry about what you've got out there and you move on. And you're not going to sweat what's going on on the periphery.

"Yes, yes, yes [Rogers could be swiftly back]. No, it doesn't change anything [planning-wise]. He could be back tomorrow. He could be back today."

If or when Rogers returns, fellow wideout and friend Naz Oliver said, Rogers will have his support.

"We have faith in Da'Rick. Whatever he decides to do and whatever he's doing, we are just going to go with it. He's our teammate. He's our family. We are just going to work with him like that," Oliver said. "I haven't visited with him. I don't really know what's going on. I haven't spoken with him today. I talked to him yesterday and everything was fine. But I haven't spoke to him today."

Veteran wideout Zach Rogers, a leader in the group, said that he was unaware Rogers would not be at practice until arriving Thursday morning. Zach Rogers insisted it was up to the group of receivers to step up as a whole. He also praised Justin Hunter, who has practiced all three days as he recovers from ACL surgery.

"Justin is the greatest teammate, one of the greatest teammates I've ever been around," Zach Rogers said. "He's very selfless, very humble. He comes out here and works and he's obviously one of the best receivers in college football. So it's an honor to play alongside him."

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