The last thing Derek Dooley needed eight days before the University of Tennessee’s season opener was to lose his top wide receiver.
Thursday, though, the Volunteers' third-year coach said he and the team are prepared to move forward without All-SEC wideout Da’Rick Rogers, who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
“There is not one player, there is not really one member in the whole organization that we’re not prepared to go play without,” Dooley said. “The one thing I’ll never do is apologize for trying to help shape, develop and change behavior of young people. Because for every one that you feel like you don’t get a hold of you see 10 to 15 over time that you do. That’s why you’re in it.”
Dooley said “recent events” prompted the suspension of Rogers, who led the SEC in 2011 with 67 receptions and also scored nine touchdowns and had 1,040 receiving yards. He does not expect Rogers to return to the team in 2012 but did not say if the player's career at Tennessee is finished.
Rogers, a 6-foot-3, 206-pound junior from Calhoun, Ga., has gotten into trouble before. This past offseason, he served a two-week ban and missed several spring practices. In 2010, he was arrested after a bar fight in Knoxville.
“It is very difficult. It is probably one of the hardest things you can do,” Dooley said. “I know on the outside sometimes coaches get criticized because the perception is it’s all about winning. But when you’re really in it and when you're close to these families and players it is a tough thing. It’s a tough thing. We’re proud of all the work we do with our young people and helping them. But inevitably things happen where you can’t go on.”
The Volunteers did not win enough games to qualify for a postseason bowl in 2011 and have gone 11-14 in their first two seasons under Dooley.
Behind Rogers, their next best receiver last year was tight end Mychal Rivera, who caught 29 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. Junior Justin Hunter averaged 104.7 yards in just three games. He caught 17 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns before his promising season was cut short when he suffered an ACL injury.
Scheduled to start against North Carolina State on Aug. 31 in Atlanta in place of Rogers, opposite of Hunter, will be junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. Senior Zach Rogers (14 catches, 189 yards in 2011) is also expected to get more playing time.
“Losing a receiver never helps but we’ve got two guys right now that are pretty good,” quarterback Tyler Bray said. “We got a mature group this year. We’ll be fine.”