KNOXVILLE – Fourth wide receivers aren’t supposed to score three touchdowns in a game against a loaded SEC defense.
But that’s exactly what Zach Rogers was considered this summer: the fourth-best receiver on the roster. That’s what happens when Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Da’Rick Rogers are also part of your unit.
Zach Rogers never got discouraged, though. He kept working, Da’Rick Rogers departed the team, and now the senior receiver out of Nashville is finding himself to be one of the top targets for quarterback Tyler Bray.
“He’s not as long, not as physical, that sort of thing, but Zach has always been fast, he’s always had a great knowledge of the game and has always had good hands,” coach Derek Dooley said. “He is a classic case of a senior playing good football.”
Rogers playing “good football” has led to some impressive numbers recently. He’s made at least three receptions in five of the last six games, including an impressive performance at South Carolina that yielded six receptions for 107 yards and three touchdowns. His third touchdown was the result of a nimble foot drag on the side of the end zone.
Rogers isn’t ready to proclaim greatness for himself, despite his career-best performance on Saturday. He points out that Hunter and Patterson are a big part of the reason he is open in the first place.
“They are definitely keyed in on those guys and they should be,” Rogers said.”They deserve all the credit they are getting right now, they are great players. They are getting all of the attention and I am kind of sneaking in behind defenses.”
Even though Rogers isn’t hyping himself up, some NFL Draft analysts are noticing the player that Dooley compared to New England Patriots’ wide receiver Wes Welker on Monday.
“Rogers is a talented athlete with very good football awareness and strong footwork to create separation out of his breaks,” CBSSports.com draft analyst Dane Brugler wrote of Rogers on Monday. “He has fluid body control with the ability to make the mid-air adjustment and burst down the field after the catch.”
Brugler, who listed Rogers as one of five draft “risers” this week, sees an NFL future for the 6-foot, 172-pounder.
“Rogers won’t be drafted nearly as high as his wide receiver teammates, but his reliable production each week is not going unnoticed by NFL teams,” he wrote.
When asked about his potentially rising draft status, Rogers again deflected the attention and said it’s not something he can afford to think about during the season.
“I can’t focus on that right now,” he said. “Right now I’m just trying to win these last four games and whatever happens after the season, happens after the season . It’s always been a dream of mine, but I’ve got to go with the hand I’m dealt.”
Phillips suspended: True freshman defensive tackle Omari Phillips has been suspended indefinitely and is currently away from the team.
Dooley did not publically address the issue on Tuesday, and the news was first reported by GVX247.com.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder out of Venice, Fla., originally signed with Florida but ended up at Tennessee after the Gators were not able to take him in their 2012 signing class due to a problem in the admissions process.
He played a limited number of snaps against Georgia State on Sept. 8, but did not record any statistics.
Bowl or bust?: Several players were extremely adamant that not making a bowl would be unacceptable this season. The Vols currently sit at 3-5, meaning they need to win at least three of their last four games to become bowl eligible.
“We just don’t want to finish with a losing record,” quarterback Tyler Bray said. “We want to finish on a positive note going into next season and get that season started up.”
Added Rogers: “Last year was the last of that business. That was a bad taste in our mouth and still is so that is not going to happen again here. I think this group of seniors that we have right now is not letting that stuff fly this year.”
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.