Da'Rick Rogers' troubled career at Tennessee appears to be over, leaving the Vols without one of the nation's best receivers only one week before the season opener against North Carolina State.
Coach Derek Dooley announced Thursday that Rogers had been suspended from the team and was unlikely to return. The junior led the SEC with 67 receptions and 1,040 yards last season and was expected to be the top target in Vols' offense in 2012.
Dooley declined to elaborate on the details of Rogers' infraction, other than to say "recent events" led to the suspension. Messages left on Rogers' cellphone were not returned Thursday. Hal Lamb, Rogers' high school coach in Calhoun, Ga., said he didn't know why Rogers had been released.
"I hate to hear the news," Lamb said. "I'm here to help him. I texted him, but I haven't heard from him."
Rogers' promising career never reached its potential, and he was involved in off-the-field trouble almost immediately after his arrival as a coveted five-star recruit in 2010.
He was arrested after a fight at a Knoxville bar in July 2010. This year, Rogers received a two-week ban from offseason activities and then missed some of spring practice amid rumors that he planned to transfer. But he had just wrapped up an impressive camp and was expected to be the Vols' top receiver again in 2012.
"It is disappointing. But I'm sure he'll land on his feet," Lamb said. "He's not a bad kid at all. He just gets caught up in situations he can't get out of. But I'm here for him. He knows that. That's what high school coaches are for."
Rogers' departure likely will add further red flags on his NFL resume, but the concerns for Tennessee go deeper than that.
Dooley, who informed Rogers of the suspension on Wednesday and told the rest of the team before practice Thursday, emphasized that the team was bigger than Rogers alone.
"There's not one player on the team that we're not prepared to go play without," Dooley said.
In the short term, Rogers' absence will put added pressure on junior Justin Hunter and junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson. Hunter missed most of last season with a torn ACL, and Dooley said it might be a few games before he is able to "knock some rust off."
Dooley also cautioned that Patterson would endure "growing pains" as he starts his career.
"He's got the size, the speed, the ball skills and the competitive character," Dooley said. "Our biggest challenge is helping him play fast by knowing what to do and how to react. He has never been in this environment."
Senior Zach Rogers and true freshman Cody Blanc were listed as second-teamers on the depth chart behind Patterson and Hunter.
"You just have to be on your toes 24-7," Zach Rogers said. "Some guy goes down and the next guy has to be able to step up. I think we can get it done regardless."
Senior tight end Mychal Rivera said he planned to reach out to Da'Rick Rogers through a text message. But most teammates were cautious in what they said to reporters.
"We've got a mature group," said quarterback Tyler Bray. "We'll be fine."
Running back Rajion Neal said he planned to "stay out of the Internet, blogs and things like that" in the coming days.
Senior cornerback Prentiss Waggner said the departure opens up opportunities for others.
"Once I heard the news, I was pretty disappointed in Da'Rick, but I haven't gotten all the details," he said. "I went right to Justin Hunter, told him 'Let's go now.' Went up to (Patterson) and Zach Rogers and told them the same thing. I think they're going to get the job done.
Dooley said the suspension of Da'Rick Rogers came about suddenly, although rumors had percolated about Rogers' status throughout this month, perhaps because of his disciplinary history.
At his preseason news conference, Dooley was asked if Rogers was facing a suspension when the season started.
"No," Dooley replied. "I don't know what you're talking about.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.