Incredibly, for Da’Rick Rogers, the hard part might be just beginning.
The undrafted rookie traveled a long road — with many obstacles of his own creation — to last week’s breakout game at Cincinnati. After catching six passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals, the stakes have been raised.
An Indianapolis Colts offense that has sputtered through fits and starts in six games without veteran Reggie Wayne desperately needs a big-play wide receiver. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Rogers, meanwhile, is desperate to prove he can stick in the NFL.
As difficult as Rogers’ journey was to get to this point, it could be even harder to stay there.
“It’s a blessing to be here,” he said by his locker earlier this week at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “Once you get here, it’s an honor. It’s definitely an opportunity, not a job or a career. You’ve got to come fight for your job every day.”
It’s a battle Rogers has fought well thus far.
His days begin early and end late with extra work alongside receivers coach Charlie Williams outside of practice. It’s a routine Rogers has followed diligently since being released by the Buffalo Bills at the end of the preseason Aug. 26 and signed by the Colts seven days later.
Indianapolis threw a lifeline to Rogers’ fledgling pro career, and he’s being asked in turn to help rescue the Colts. In truth, he makes for an unlikely hero.
Immaturity, not a lack of talent, slowed Rogers’ climb. He was a high school star in Georgia and had a breakout sophomore season at the University of Tennessee before coming untracked.
His fall reportedly included three failed drug tests with the Vols. The school never provided an official reason for suspending him for his junior season, but the receiver himself owned up to the test results at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.
Sterling numbers after a transfer to Tennessee Tech did little to assuage fears, and Rogers slipped through all seven rounds of April’s draft. When he caught just two passes for 12 yards — ironically including a 6-yard touchdown at Lucas Oil Stadium — in four preseason games with the Bills, the receiver was beginning to look like a waste of potential.
That changed in Indianapolis, where his work ethic never waned despite spending most of his time simulating opposing offenses on the practice squad.
Before last week, the highlight of Rogers’ NFL career was drawing a 26-yard pass interference penalty against Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner during a win on Dec. 1.
With added snaps in place of struggling Darrius Heyward-Bey last Sunday, he took the second reception of his career 69 yards for a touchdown on a slant pattern over the middle of the Bengals’ defense.
“It feels like it did in my dreams,” Rogers said. “Great, amazing, everything I could imagine. But it felt good to finally see the hard work that you put in, overcoming ... It’s something to build on.”
The challenge now is to replicate that success.
Since Wayne’s injury Oct. 20 against Denver, defenses have been sending extra coverage over the top to T.Y. Hilton’s side of the field in an attempt to contain the Colts’ lone remaining big-play threat.
Rogers — and second-year receiver LaVon Brazill, who caught three passes for 53 yards and two scores during the 42-28 loss at Cincinnati — could help alleviate that problem if they can sustain last week’s performances.
Of course, Rogers and Brazill now will have to deal with defensive changes of their own.
“Teams will try to game plan for you, do things to try to take you away,” said Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson, a six-time Pro Bowler who will line up against the Colts today. “A lot of times, you just have to learn and adjust on the fly. It’s definitely tough week in and week out and try to put up those big numbers. I’d just tell them to stay focused on what they’re doing and keep working hard at their craft.”
With all the twists and turns Rogers’ football life has taken, it’s easy to forget he’s still just 22 years old. He has an opportunity to “make himself necessary,” as head coach Chuck Pagano likes to say, in Indianapolis.
He has a chance to fulfill the potential that once made him a rising star in the nation’s most demanding college football conference.
He has a chance, finally, to find an NFL home.
“He got a second chance, and he’s taken advantage of the opportunity that this organization has given him,” Pagano said. “Now it’s a matter of handling success. And that’s something that we’ll continue to talk to him daily about.”
Incredibly, for Da’Rick Rogers, the hard part might be just beginning.
- Saints should provide barometer for ambitious Colts The last two meetings with the New Orleans Saints have ended in misery for the Indianapolis Colts.
- Defending 1A champs drop Bulldogs Tim Miller knew when his Lapel Bulldogs took the field Friday night against Tri-Central it would be a difficult task. The third-year coach was correct in his assessment, as the Bulldogs were unable to dig out of an early four-touchdown deficit en route to a 40-18 season-opening loss to the defending Class 1A state champions.
- Third-ranked Scecina blitzes Elwood Life after Sammy Mireles officially began for Elwood's football program Friday night. The Panthers commenced their 2014 season against Class 2A third-ranked Scecina without the state's all-time leading rusher, who graduated after racking up 8,110 yards for his career. That, along with the Crusaders' depth and speed as well as the heat that delayed the kickoff 30 minutes, was too much for Elwood to overcome. Scecina ended up rolling, 37-12, and handed the Panthers their third straight opening-night setback.|ELWOOD — Life after Sammy Mireles officially began for Elwood's football program Friday night. The Panthers commenced their 2014 season against Class 2A third-ranked Scecina without the state's all-time leading rusher, who graduated after racking up
- Argylls can't hold on against rival Marion It was a tale of two halves Friday night as Madison-Grant hosted Marion to kickoff the high school football season. The Argylls put 22 points up in the first half, but Marion scored 25 in nine minutes in the second to pull out a 25-22 win over the hosts.
Eagles duo grounds Jets, 52-6
Frankton's senior tandem of quarterback Brayden Ginder and receiver Austin Compton decided Friday night's season opener early. Ginder's first three passes went to Compton and all of them resulted in touchdowns as the Eagles went on to put away Anderson Preparatory Academy 52-6.
- Rough start to new era for Tribe The newest era of Anderson High School football did not get off to the best of starts Friday night. The Indians (0-1) turned the ball over six times and surrendered 47 first-half points en route to a 53-7 loss against Fort Wayne Wayne (1-0) at Collier Field.
- High school football preview: Indians prepare for season of intrigue with new head coach There's one conclusion Robert Brown is emphatically prepared to draw from his first three months as the head football coach at Anderson High School. "There's more talent here than what I thought," he said before a practice this week. "I knew that the cupboards weren't dry. I knew there was some talent here, but there's a lot more than what I thought coming in."
- High School football preview: Raiders' unselfishness keeps Shenandoah rumbling on The Shenandoah football team does not rebuild. It reloads. And runs the ball over, around and — when necessary — through anything in its path.
Rick Teverbaugh: Football, school start too early
We are just one day away from the kickoff of the high school football season.
Rick Bramwell: Squirrel good place for hunters to start
A lot of kids, these days, go straight to deer hunting when introduced to the sport. A better specie for a young hunter to hone his or her skills on, is squirrel. Developing the stealth it takes to sneak within range of a squirrel will serve beginners well when they move up to big game.
- More Sports Headlines