Better to receive ...

Better to receive ...

After enduring a mild identity crisis last fall, Tennessee's Da'Rick Rogers has a simple goal for the coming football season.

"I'm most definitely looking forward to playing RECEIVER," he said, smiling as he emphasized the last word.

The 6-3, 212-pounder was listed at receiver as a true freshman last fall but wound up filling more of a tailback role. Although he generally lined up in a flanker position, he actually carried the ball more times (16) than he caught it (11). That's because he proved to be exceptional as a runner on end-around plays and reverses.

"There will be more of those," he said following Tuesday's practice, "and there will be more passes this year for sure."

His first carry of 2010 came on an end-around in Game 2 against Oregon, and he turned some heads by gaining 21 yards. His second carry, however, resulted in an eight-yard loss in Game 4 vs. UAB.

After carrying one time for three yards in Game 7 vs. Georgia, he exploded in Game 8 at South Carolina. Between end-arounds and reverses, he carried five times that day and produced a team-high 49 rushing yards. Naturally, he recalls that game fondly.

"I'll never shy away from taking any balls they give to me," he said with a laugh. "Receiving the ball is great, too, but I'll take it any way they give it to me. I like to be multi-purpose. I want to be able to do everything."

He's certainly headed in that direction. In addition to averaging 7.3 yards carrying the ball and 15.2 yards catching the ball last fall, he returned an even dozen kickoffs. His average of 24.8 yards was second-best on the team behind Janzen Jackson, whose only return went for 55 yards.

"I feel like kickoff returns is my job this year," Rogers said. "We've been working on it a lot, getting that fixed, so I feel like we'll have a big improvement in that area."

Although Da' Rick Rogers is valuable returning kicks and carrying on end-arounds, the Vols desperately need him to play a bigger role as a receiver this season. That's because the top three pass-catchers of 2010 - Gerald Jones (55 receptions), Denarius Moore (47) and Luke Stocker (39) - are out of eligibility.

Rogers understands why he caught just 11 passes last fall and is working diligently to resolve that issue this spring.

"My route-running," he said. "Mainly my speed off the ball and getting in and out of my cuts."

Like most freshmen, Rogers heard plenty about the speed of college football but still was surprised once he encountered it last fall. He vows to be ready for it this fall.

"The best thing I learned last year was noticing how fast the speed of the SEC is," he said. "Now I know what it takes to be great and what I've got to do."

After catching just six passes for 41 yards in the first eight games of 2010, Rogers reeled in five passes for 126 yards in the last five games. The big finish, he says, is easily explained.

"Once I got comfortable in the offense - felt like I knew most of it - I could just play fast rather than thinking about what I had to do," he said. "It all worked out, and I definitely feel like that will carry over into this season."

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