INDIANAPOLIS – The voice on the other end of the phone sighed as if he knew he couldn’t get by with just giving glowing remarks about the receiver he coached at the University of Tennessee.
“Talented,” Charlie Baggett said before his voice tailed off some. “And immature. That’s Da’Rick (Rogers) for you.”
Rogers’ talent and immaturity went hand-in-hand for him when he played for the Volunteers. He led the SEC with 67 receptions for 1,040 yards during his sophomore season at Tennessee.
“I always said he reminded me of Terrell Owens,” said Baggett, who was the receivers coach at Tennessee. “He’s a big, strong physical receiver with talent like T.O. But he made some bad decisions. He wanted to showboat, he wasn’t as good of a team player that he could be.”
The better the Indianapolis Colts receiver played, the more he moved into the spotlight. Some 18- and 19-year-olds can handle the fame. Rogers wasn’t one of them.
Substance abuse problems. Maturity issues. Dismissed from the football team.
That’s when Rogers became known as the talented but immature kid.
“When you’re young and you have a little bit of success, sometimes you don’t know how to deal with it,” Rogers said. “I did some things wrong in the past, but with that being said, I had to learn from what I did.”
Rogers suddenly had nowhere to go. He was talking to coach at Calhoun High School (Ga.) when the conversation of transferring to Tennessee Tech came up.
Tennessee Tech isn’t in the SEC. It’s not even a Football Bowl Subdivision school. It’s a Football Championship Subdivision school located in Cookeville, TN.
That’s a long way from playing in The Swamp in Gainesville, Fla., or at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown knew he was taking a risk since they don't routinely accept transfers. Rogers' talent was too good to pass up, though. He met with the seniors on the team and then they voted as a team whether to allow him to be a part of the program.
“The Tennessee situation affected Da’Rick more than people realize because he’s not the kind of person to show his hurt,” said Mike Garigan, a mentor of Rogers. “He knew he had to get back to playing football. One of Da’Rick’s problems was that sometimes he thought his way was better than anybody else’s. Before he matured, he was set that his way was better.”
Rogers caught 18 passes for 303 yards in a game against Southeast Missouri State and finished with 61 catches for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns despite playing a portion of the season with a hip pointer in his lone season at Tennessee Tech.
Rogers skipped his senior season to enter the draft. He had one of the best overall performances at the combine but the draft came and went without his hearing his name called because of his checkered past.
“The kid would have been a first-round draft pick if he would have done what he was supposed to do,” Baggett said. “I’ve been around for 35 years and coached a lot of good players. I knew he had talent and I knew if he developed and got his mind together the sky was the limit for him.”
Fourteen teams reached out to Rogers’ agent about signing with them. He ended up signing with the Buffalo Bills before they released him in late August. Rogers worked out for the Miami Dolphins before the Colts signed him to their practice squad on Sept. 2.
"He’s the smartest football player I’ve ever coached besides Cris Carter,” Baggett said. “Cris Carter was the smartest as far as studying and knowing game and understanding the game. If Da’Rick learns to study the game, he’ll be the smartest football player on the Colts.”
The buzz around Rogers continued to circulate as the weeks passed, but the Colts slowly brought him along, not wanting to overwhelm him with learning the system. The fire in Rogers burnt even more when future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne went down for the season with a torn ACL.
“It ate me up daily,” Rogers said. “But it made me go to practice every day and put in the extra work to get back on the field and show what I can do for this team.”
The Colts moved Rogers to the active roster for good Nov. 11. It wasn’t until the game Dec. 1 against Tennessee that he was activated for a game. The coming-out party happened last weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals and after Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped down the depth chart.
Rogers had six catches for 107 yards, two touchdowns and a dance in the end zone that he knew he would do when he scored his first touchdown. He's the first rookie to have at least 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns in a game this season.
Rogers’ phone was full of text messages after the game. Coach Brown at Tennessee Tech, Baggett, his agent, his mother and Garigan were just a handful of many people who reached out to him.
“It was a finally-made-it dance,” Rogers said. “That was a little something I do in the club. I never doubted myself. I always felt like I could bounce back. Being so young, everybody makes mistakes. I’d get a second chance was the way I always approached it. Just wanted to make sure I got it and take advantage of it.”
There could be plenty more opportunities for Rogers in the future if he continues to progress the way many in the organization believe he can. Wayne is 35 years old and has to prove he can return to form following ACL surgery. T.Y. Hilton is the only other receiver who will certainly be brought back next season.
Now it’s up to Rogers to prove he can handle his on-the-field success off of it. His inner circle constantly reminds him to avoid temptations.
"That's his biggest challenge," Baggett said. "Do that and he'll make the Colts happy because he's going to produce on the field."