KNOXVILLE — He’s the SEC’s leading returning receiver, he’s lighter and quicker and all of his offensive counterparts are back healthy.
Tennessee junior wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers was especially upbeat and optimistic on Saturday. And he was very confident in the Vols’ offensive potential heading into 2012.
“They can’t do anything,” Rogers said about opposing defenses trying to stop all of Tennessee’s offensive talent. “The way I see it, I don’t think you can guard it. You just have so many weapons; you have to respect every weapon. It opens up our entire offense — even the running game.”
Rogers said he is down to around 208 pounds after playing last season closer to 215. He described himself as “thick-legged” in the past but said dropping a few pounds should help his speed, route running and endurance.
He needed all the endurance he could get in 2011 after being a one-man show on offense during stretches of the season. Injuries to quarterback Tyler Bray and fellow wide receiver Justin Hunter forced Rogers into extensive work to keep the offense afloat. He was a frequent target of defensive double teams and other schemes designed to limit his production.
Despite all that, he still finished the season as the SEC’s second-leading receiver with 1,040 yards on 67 receptions. He’ll be fine sharing the load more in 2012 because it will mean less coverage for him at times. He is thrilled to have Hunter back, but he’s also excited about new fellow receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
“I can’t wait until we all come together,” Rogers said. “I’m really, really excited to see what he does against the first team. His knowledge of the game is great, his vertical speed is really good even though he’s big.”
The Vols’ first game against NC State is already circled on Rogers’ calendar. It is being played in his home state of Georgia, and it will match the Vols’ talented receivers against NC State’s impressive secondary.
Rogers said the chance to go against NC State’s cornerback David Amerson, a projected first-round pick in 2013, gives him more motivation to work over the next 27 days.
“We know they have a great secondary, so we’re excited to go out and show what we have,” he said. “Everybody has low expectations for us as a team, but we have high expectations.”
Bullard a potential utility lineman: Juniors Alex Bullard and James Stone are battling to be the starting center, but Bullard doesn’t mind that he’s also getting a look at left tackle with the second team.
“The biggest thing is just having somebody ready to go in there if (left tackle) Tiny (Richardson) or (right tackle) Ja’Wuan James goes down,” Bullard said.
If the coaches do like what they see from Bullard at tackle, they will have a true utility lineman on their hands in the Notre Dame transfer. Bullard started six games as a guard and six games as a center in 2011.
"If somebody goes down I will probably be the person who they move and fill in the void," Bullard said. "I just have to work to know every position, and do that to the best of my ability."
Wildcat options: The Vols have repped a Wildcat formation the first two days of practice, using mainly running back Marlin Lane as the player taking the direct snap out of the shotgun.
“I’m just getting back used to it; we are just trying it out to see how it works,” the sophomore running back said. “We’re not for sure if we’re really going to use it, but we’re working on it just to be on the safe side.”
Lane was utilized in the Wildcat some in 2011 and he also ran it at Mainland High School in Daytona, Fla. Lane said he feels like a natural doing it. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said another former high school quarterback, freshman linebacker Justin King, could be an option as well.
Practice observations: A few quick-hitting observations from the defensive side of the ball at Saturday’s open practice:
• Sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt is working primarily with the outside linebackers after splitting time between inside and outside linebackers in the spring.
• Defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore appears lighter and was moving better than he did in spring practice.
• Daniel Hood worked mainly at defensive end. He is expected to get work at end and nose tackle, but Maurice Couch and Greg Clark were the only two veterans working exclusively at nose tackle.