Special to the Journal
NOXVILLE, Tenn. - Although the big news of the day outside of practice was the indefinite suspension of Da’Rick Rogers, the focus during practice remained solely on the goal of beating NC State in just eight days at the Georgia Dome.
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley addressed the situation of moving forward without Rogers, but was quick to point out that one person does not make or break a team.
“When you get into the coaching profession, you quickly learn that the number one professional hazard is the behavior of 18-22 year olds,” Dooley said. “I can assure you guy this, there is not one player or really one member of the whole organization that we are not prepared to go play without.
“Our focus is on the guys here and what opponent is coming up next. It’s a great quality opponent so that is where we are. We had a real good practice and the players are going to get a couple of days off to recover physically and then we will crank up heavy game week come Sunday.”
One of the players that will be looked at to step into the void created by Rogers absence will be senior wide receiver Zach Rogers, who echoed Dooley’s sentiments after Thursday’s practice.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but at the same time we have to play with who’s here,” Zach Rogers said. “Right now we have a good core group of guys and we’re going to go out there and play whether he’s there or not, so we’re ready to play regardless. You just have to be on your toes 24/7. Some guy goes down and the next guy has to be able to step up in place of Da’Rick so I think we can get it done regardless.”
After learning the hard way last season after injuries to both Justin Hunter and Tyler Bray, Tennessee was determined to be able to adjust to any possible situation this year, working on a number of contingency plans over the last eight months. Because of that meticulous preparation, the Vols feel comfortable moving forward without Rogers.
“I would say very minimal [catch-up is needed for the rest of the receivers],” Dooley said. “We have developed and planned, all through since January, for any contingency and I mean that. Whether it was Justin [Hunter], Da’Rick or Tyler Bray, so it is very minimal because the guys have gotten an inordinate amount of reps. Had somebody else, [Cordarrelle Patterson], gotten those reps, then we would have taken some reps from CP in other areas, so they really did the same. Really who it hurts is probably the eighth or ninth guy, not the third guy.
“The lesson from last year was not being held hostage by an injury or two. The deeper you are, the more talented you are at every position, that’s when you can better handle all of these contingencies. I’m not saying we are there, we still have a lot of young and inexperienced guys, but we are certainly prepared for it.”
The next step for the Vols remains the same as it did on Wednesday, unchanged by Rogers’ suspension.
“You just have to believe in the coaches, stay up under them and let them guide you and coach you,” junior tailback Rajion Neal said. “Then, as much as you can, distance yourself from the distractions, and just stay away from the internet blogs and things like that. Just focus, work, keep going and just prepare.”