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November 14, 2013

Colts GameDay: Rookie Rogers ready if called upon

INDIANAPOLIS — At the core, it's a Hail Mary attempt.

And Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano isn't yet certain he's ready to pull the trigger.

Few question Da'Rick Rogers' talent, but the former Georgia high school star and University of Tennessee sophomore sensation has traveled a rough and tumble path to the NFL.

Undrafted following a checkered college record, he was cut by the Buffalo Bills after making just two catches for 12 yards in the preseason. One of those receptions was a 6-yard touchdown at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 1, and he was signed to the Colts' practice squad on Sept. 2.

He was activated for the Sept. 22 win at San Francisco but did not play and was waived two days later. On Sept. 26, Indianapolis re-signed Rogers to the practice squad, and they say he's been a model citizen ever since.

"You've got a talented football player, that since we brought him in here and gave him the opportunity that we talked about a long time ago, he's done everything that we've asked him to do," Pagano said. "Now we're giving him an opportunity because he's earned that opportunity to go along with he's big, he's fast and he's got excellent ball skills. He's just another guy that we can add to the mix."

But the head coach stopped short of saying Rogers will be active for tonight's key AFC South contest at Tennessee. Pagano repeatedly used the word "if" in talking about the receiver's potential impact for the Colts.

If Rogers plays tonight, there would be a certain symmetry about making his professional debut in the Volunteer State. He was the No. 1-ranked recruit in the state of Georgia coming out of high school, but he shunned the Bulldogs in favor of Tennessee.

As a sophomore, he caught 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns and was named second-team All-Southeastern Conference. A fellow receiver from that team, Justin Hunter, will be on the opposite sideline for the Titans tonight.

In 2011, Rogers seemed to be a rising star in the nation's best college football conference. But he was suspended indefinitely before the start of his junior season and ultimately transferred to Tennessee Tech.

Tennessee never publicly announced the reason for Rogers' suspension, but the receiver later admitted he'd failed three drug tests at the school. During the NFL Scouting Combine in February, Rogers did not hide from his past.

He chalked up much of his behavior to immaturity and said he passed 10 drug tests during his lone season at Tennessee Tech. Then he went out and posted some of the combine's best numbers in the vertical jump (39.5 inches), broad jump (132 inches), three-cone drill (6.71 seconds), 20-yard shuttle (4.06 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.31 seconds).

But he didn't hear his name called in any of the seven rounds of April's draft, and then the Bills decided they could move without him after the preseason.

But Rogers never lost confidence.

"Oh, never that," he said. "Never drop your head. It was just motivation. Me, as a player, I know my talents, and I know my abilities. I just know I had to fix a few things personally, and I'm in the direction of fixing those things. This organization has helped."

The Colts might have finally reached a point where they need Rogers as badly as he needs another chance.

The offense has struggled in the past two weeks without veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, and some of the most glaring problems have come on third down. Indianapolis was 2-for-12 on third-down conversions Sunday in a 38-8 loss against the St. Louis Rams.

Rogers was adept at using his 6-foot-3, 215-pound body to shield defenders from the football in college. And his biggest attribute was an ability to make difficult catches in traffic over the middle.

The question remains whether he can transfer those skills to the NFL.

Rogers wore a yellow jersey in practice this week, suggesting he still spent a majority of his time working with the scout team. But he said he'll be ready if called upon tonight, even with limited reps with quarterback Andrew Luck.

"You can never have as much reps," he said. "There's no telling how many reps Marvin Harrison and Peyton (Manning) and Reggie (Wayne) and those guys did. You can never have as much reps as you want, but we get as much as we can in."

Rogers said Luck called extra meetings with the offense this week, breaking down film and discussing tonight's game in a players only setting. The rookie wide receiver believes the atmosphere around Indianapolis' facility is conducive to winning, and he said Luck and that environment have helped him grow on and off the field.

It remains to be seen whether he'll be given the chance to display that growth tonight in Nashville. But Rogers has no questions about his role.

"Put on a uniform and make a play whenever they tell me to," he said, "simple as that."

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