Zach Rogers probably felt stuck in the middle.
Between a proven productive duo and a trio of physically dazzling freshmen, the Tennessee sophomore receiver was in no-man’s land.
But with the Vols a little more than a week away from next Saturday’s opener against UT Martin, Rogers is right in the mix.
“We’ve got a lot of potential, and I think we’re going to live up to it,” he said. “We’ve become a close group, so I like where we’re headed.”
Rogers has been the forgotten man at receiver throughout UT’s preseason camp with the return of seniors Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore — the Vols’ top two receivers last season.
Highly touted freshmen Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers and Matt Milton have also drawn their fair share of the preseason spotlight, though deservedly so in Zach Rogers’ eyes.
“Everybody’s talking about these young freshmen (receivers) coming in,” he said.
“They’re doing a great job, helping the team out, making plays left and right. I’m doing everything I can (to help) because they’re a special group.”
But Rogers started Wednesday’s mock game in a three-receiver set with Jones and Moore. Throw in the uncertainty surrounding Hunter’s status with an NCAA Clearinghouse issue and Rogers will find himself playing some sort of role in UT’s passing game.
“We’re all interchangeable,” he said. “Anybody can go over the middle, anybody can play slot, so I like the versatility that we all have.”
The 6-foot, 178-pound Rogers, who caught three passes and played in 12 games last season, followed the footsteps of older brother Austin to UT after starring at Nashville’s David Lipscomb High School (state title in 2007, Mr. Football in 2008).
A factor in Zach’s decision was the opportunity to play one season with Austin, but that was derailed when Austin tore his anterior cruciate ligament before preseason camp even began last July.
“It was terrible,” Zach said. “It was our dream to come here and play together, but unfortunately it didn’t happen.
“I was just trying to be strong for him cause I saw how much it was hurting him, cause he loved this university and he loved this team. It was real tough to see him go down like that, but I was just trying to be there for him as best I could.”
Austin, who also took a medical redshirt after mononucleosis ended his season in 2006, was denied a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. Now he’s working in commercial real estate in Nashville and talking to Zach on a daily basis.
“With all this coaching change,” Zach said, “he’s been there for me, giving advice because he’s the older brother and he’s been through a lot before.
“He’s just helping me any way he can.”
Now Zach hopes overcoming his brother’s injury and a coaching change early in his UT career will ultimately work out for the best.
“You’ve got to look past it sometimes and just keep working, and that’s what I’ve tried to do,” he said.
“Hopefully it will pay off.”
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.