Michael Johnson/Livingston County News
Buffalo Bills rookie receiver Da'Rick Rogers (17) sprints down field after making the catch during Tuesday morning's training camp session at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford.
Buffalo Bills Training Camp
Rogers exceeding undrafted label
PITTSFORD – For undrafted rookies, training camp is not just a time to learn a new system and get used to the playing style of the NFL, but a time to stand out.
For many of these players, they know they are long shots to make a roster. And even if they do manage to squeeze in, playing time will likely be very limited.
But it would appear that former Tennessee Tech wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers would have every advantage in the world to make Buffalo’s 53 man roster, and contribute on coach Doug Marrone’s new offense.
As a sophomore in 2011, while playing for the University of Tennessee, Rogers started all 12 games, led the SEC in receptions (67) and receiving yards (1,040), and finished second in touchdowns with nine. He was named a first team All-SEC selection. Potential sky high, Rogers would have likely been touted as a high draft pick if he kept up his performance following his junior season.
Instead, Rogers was suspended from the Volunteers after a violation of team rules, later announced to failing multiple drug tests. He decided to transfer to Tennessee Tech, where he scored 10 touchdowns, and caught 61 passes for 893 yards in his lone season with the school. He also reportedly passed 10 drug tests.
Many NFL Draft analysts stated that Rogers easily had the talent to be a top wide receiver in the 2013 class. Some even thought that Rogers was the best receiving prospect talent-wise in the entire draft, and that he had the potential to be a “star” in the league if his head could stay straight. But, teams couldn’t look past the behavioral and character concerns, and he was passed on with every pick.
Buffalo swooped him up following the draft and signed him as an undrafted free agent. It’s a no-risk situation. If he’s as great as they say, the Bills stole him off the market. If he’s a flop, the Bills can cut ties and lose nothing.
For Rogers, he’s hoping it’s the former.
“I definitely use it as motivation,” said Rogers, of falling out of the draft. “I definitely come in here with a chip on my shoulder. I come in here every day like I have to prove myself. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
Undrafted rookies are the lowest of the lows on the totem pole, and Rogers knows he really needs to stand out if he wants a chance on this roster. He needs to be excellent on the field and squeaky clean off, if he wants to prove that the other 30 teams made a mistake.
“I’ve got to come in here every day and work hard,” said Rogers. “I have to show the coaches that I’m willing to work for this. I’ve got to be a fly on the wall, be seen and not heard.”
So far, he’s doing exactly that. After day four of training camp, Rogers was out there working on team drills with the first team offense, something that is rare for undrafted rookies. And he wouldn’t be out there so early if Marrone didn’t think he was ready.
“I think he has stepped it up from when we were in OTAs and mini-camp,” said Marrone. “I believe he’s in better shape than he was before. That’s a credit to him and our conditioning people and what he did in the off-season. He’s done some nice things. He’s had some separation. He’s a big receiver with strong hands. He’s going to be competing for a roster spot.”
For Rogers now, it’s all about hoping those first team reps continue, and making sure that they do.
“It felt good (to be out there with the one’s),” said Rogers. “If I just keep showing the team I work hard, the reps will keep coming.”
It’s also about getting used to the feeling of being a starter on an NFL roster.
“At first, you’re going, ‘Oh, shoot, don’t let me mess this up,’” said Rogers. “But once you get in there, you get it right, you’ve just got to make plays and it becomes normal.”
It’s also good for Rogers to be surrounded by veteran talent at the position, guys like Stevie Johnson, a former seventh-round pick, to seek help from when needed.
“Right now, I’m learning how to carry his pads,” Rogers joked, holding up the #13 practice jersey. “But they are great guys. They come in and give you advice on the field and off the field. We’ve got a great receiving core, with a great offense and good you coaches. We’re getting better.”