October 9, 2008

Rogers leads by attitude, example

The easiest thing would have been for Austin Rogers to sulk. About his lack of catches. About his lack of opportunities. About his status in Tennessee's wide receivers rotation.

Instead, on a team still trying to identify leaders in the midst of a beguiling 2-3 start, Rogers volunteered. To be on every special teams unit. From a guy who had 56 catches last year?

Yep.

"I went to coach (Phillip Fulmer), and I told him I don't really know what's going on with the receiver thing right now. I'm willing to help at receiver when I can, I know you all are putting the guys in that you want to play and think can make plays, but I'm not above going on special teams," said the Nashville native, whose brother, Zach, has verbally committed to the Vols. "If you need me to play special teams, go in there and make a play, I will. He put me on pretty much all the special teams, and I just try to go out there and make as many plays with special teams or at receiver as I can. Whatever I can do to help the team win."

As much as Rogers wants to help in the box score, he also is seeking to lead by example.

"(Fulmer) appreciated it, and he knew what kind of guy I was. He knew I would do that, and that's why I was already on a couple of special teams," Rogers said. "He was appreciative of my effort and trying to step up and be a leader and go out there and help wherever I can."

In limited opportunities this season, Rogers has helped the Vols have chances to win. He caught a crucial pass from Jonathan Crompton in the opener at UCLA that helped Daniel Lincoln boot the overtime-forcing field goal. At Auburn two weeks ago Rogers made an impressive catch on a pass thrown slightly behind him, adjusting his body and corralling the throw for a 14-yard gain.

"I love Austin Rogers. I mean, I think he's a heck of a football player," Fulmer said. "Unbelievable person. Unbelievable family. And I'd get in the foxhole with him every day.

"He's also a guy the year before that was kind of in the shadows of a bunch of guys and worked through it. He's been there, he knows how to do that. He's got all the character in the world and is an unbelievable person and a really good football player."

That resolve is being tested this season, both as Tennessee struggles through a revamped offensive system and as losses mount. Rogers acknowledges the lack of involvement in the offense creates frustration; he's on pace for roughly 10 catches this season, hasn't cracked the end zone and sees eight players on the Vols' roster with more catches.

"It is tough, but we're just trying to get going on offense right now," Rogers said. "But I've got to look past my stats and my accolades and just try to help get this offense going.

"None of the receivers really have that gaudy of stats right now. It's more about the offense than it is stats right now."

First-year receivers coach Latrell Scott has appreciated Rogers' selfless attitude and insisted all receivers would get more involved as the Vols' passing game continues to evolve.

"Obviously Austin's a guy who had a huge role on this team last year, and he still does have a huge role on this team this year. He may not get as many touches or snaps as he used to, but Austin plays a bunch of hidden snaps," Scott said. "Austin's on every special team, and he contributed last week in the passing game. As our ability to throw the ball gets better, his opportunities will get better.

"But you don't want to be on a team and not have Austin Rogers on your team."

Rogers' personality, Scott indicated, mirrors that of the wide receivers' unit.

"Not just Austin but this entire group has done a great job remaining focused. We've had individual conversations with everybody and let everyone understand what their role is," Scott said. "Our roles change from day to day, and Austin's been great. He's a team-first guy. There's going to be ways for him to contribute on offense, but right now he's doing a terrific job for us on offense and on special teams."

Rogers believes the offense is close to breaking out.

"We have all the tools. We have everything it needs. It's just, you know, getting consistent play out of everybody," said the personable junior, a mainstay on various all-academic teams who's on track to graduate early. "It's not the same person every time. It's different. It's not just the line or the receivers or the quarterback. It's everybody. From top to bottom, and we've just got to come together and consistently make plays."

It's a safe bet Rogers will be right there for the Vols when it happens.

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