Da'Rick Is Da'Gone
This morning Tennessee announced that the top returning wide receiver in the SEC, Da'Rick Rogers, was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
Immediately the questions that mattered most to Tennessee fans were these, how long is indefinite and what's the suspension for?
Just moments ago Dooley said the team didn't expect Da'Rick back for the rest of the season.
This is a massive blow to the team and is just the latest twist in the star-crossed Tennessee tenure of Rogers.
First, Rogers, a five-star wideout, committed to Georgia. Then just before signing day he flipped, the final feather in Lane Kiffin's cap even if Dooley was the receipient of the flip, a five-star prize who came along with his high school quarterback to rocky top.
As a freshman, before classes even began, Rogers was involved in a summer brawl inside "Bar Knoxville." The result was the above picture, Rogers attempting to shield himself leaving the police station as reporters snapped photographs. Since that time Rogers has been on super secret probation multiple times. Just this past spring Rogers took to Twitter to fuel a rumor that he was transferring to Georgia State.
He's also fond of Tweeting about hot tubbing with high school girls. (Which, to be fair, makes him gubernatorial material in many Southern states).
For three years Dooley and Da'Rick, two Derek's of a different spelling, have sparred with one another. Who held the power, the coach on a perpetual hot seat or the wide receiver on the perpetual hot route?
Rogers was a mercurial wunderkid, Dooley's own rorschach test, how do you deal with wayward talent when your ability to deal with wayward talent governs your future ability to coach any kind of major talent at all? And does your team respect you when it's clear that you can't discipline your top players because you want to keep your job?
Talk about a tough line to walk.
Dooley's an orange-clad Johnny Cash. (Without the track record of success or alcohol issues).
If Da'Rick tanks, Da'Dooley probably tanks too.
Two weeks ago I wrote this: "In fact, toss Dooley, Bray, and junior wide receiver/diva/perpetual malconent Da'Rick Rogers into the offensive mix and you're talking about a potent molotov cocktail of inexplicable decision making that could explode at any moment."
Today that Dool-Aid cocktail exploded and Dooley finally drew his line, he doesn't expect Rogers to play this season.
So what's the on-field impact for Tennessee and how does this impact Dooley's future?
Tennessee desperately needed Rogers, who posted 67 catches and 1040 receiving yards last year. While LSU's Tyrann Mathieu being out for the 2012 season received a ton of attention, LSU is far better able to withstand Mathieu's loss and Georgia is far better able to withstand the loss of Crowell than Tennessee is able to withstand the loss of Da'Rick Rogers. Indeed, outside of Tyler Bray it's hard to think of an offensive player that is more important to the team. Rogers is the most crippling offseason loss for any SEC team.
That's because without Rogers as Tyler Bray's security blanket the talent at wide receiver, while strong at the top, gets wobbly and unproven awfully fast. Begin with junior wide receiver Justin Hunter who will be returning from a torn ACL and hasn't played in a game since last September. Clearly Hunter is a first round talent. But what's his ability level going to be like at the start of the season? By the end of the season? After all, how many receivers return and are immediately as good as they were prior to a significant knee injury? It's probably going to take Hunter a while to round in to form. Especially with teams able to focus on him deep without fear of Rogers running intermediate routes underneath.
The other starter, junior college wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson is supposed to be a stud, but he's never played in an SEC game and he didn't arrive on UT's campus until July. How quickly can he master the offense and get in sync with Tyler Bray?
After this duo, the quality of proven receivers at Tennessee takes a big hit.
The next receivers on the depth chart are senior wide receiver Zach Rogers, who has never produced despite ample playing time on the field, and true freshman Cody Blanc.
Given that Tennessee hasn't proven any ability to run the ball, the idea was that the Vols would be in three wide receiver sets frequently, opening up offensive opportunities with an explosive downfield passing threat. Suddenly that hope seems lost.
Already the line against N.C. State has plummeted from an opening of Tennesssee -7 to Vols -3.
Derek Dooley is about to coach the most important game of his life, with the most reliable offensive playmaker on his team outside the Georgia Dome.
Dooley finally took a stand on Da'Rick Rogers, but will it be a hollow victory? And even if he's established that this is his team and everyone must play by the same rules, how long will it still be Dooley's team?