KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Add one more name to the star-studded list of SEC standouts sidelined by off-field issues: Tennessee wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers.Rogers, a first-team all-Southeastern Conference receiver last year, was suspended indefinitely Thursday for a violation of team rules. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said he doesn't expect Rogers to rejoin the team this season, though he didn't completely rule out the possibility.
"When you get into the coaching profession, you quickly learn that probably the No. 1 professional hazard is the behavior of 18- to 22-year-olds," Dooley said. "I can assure you guys this, that there's not one player, there's not really one member in the whole organization that we're not prepared to go play without."
Rogers, who had 67 catches for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns last season, is the latest high-profile SEC player to run into trouble.
Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, was kicked off LSU's team this month. Georgia dismissed running back Isaiah Crowell in June after his arrest on weapons charges. Former Auburn running back Michael Dyer transferred to Arkansas State after getting suspended indefinitely before last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl for a violation of team rules, then he was kicked off his new team in July.
Dooley wouldn't say what would it take for Rogers to rejoin the Volunteers this season.
"I don't want to get into specifics on that," Dooley said. "I think the assumption is he's not with us, and it's very unlikely he will be."
Tennessee was counting on the combination of quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Rogers to form one of the SEC's most dynamic passing attacks. The Volunteers are attempting to bounce back from consecutive losing seasons. In a 45-23 victory last September over a Cincinnati team that finished 10-3, Hunter and Rogers became the first receivers in school history to catch 10 passes in the same game.
Hunter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee against Florida the next week, Bray later missed five games with a fractured right thumb and Tennessee went on to finish 5-7. Now the Vols again must deal with adversity again a week before their Aug. 31 season opener against North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome.
Bray noted that dealing with Hunter's injury last season could help Tennessee respond to this latest setback.
"It's a little different circumstance, but it's about the same thing," Bray said. "We have a mature group this year. We'll be fine."
Cordarrelle Patterson, a newcomer from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, will probably replace Rogers' spot in the starting lineup. Patterson caught 113 passes for 1,832 yards and 24 touchdowns his two seasons at Hutchinson. He's a 6-foot-3 receiver with the speed of a kick returner, a combination that helped him earn plenty of praise even before Rogers' departure.
"He's got the size, he's got the speed, he's got the ball skills," Dooley said. "I think he's got the competitive character. Now our biggest challenge is helping him play fast by knowing what to do and how to react. He's never been in this environment. There will be some growing pains. The same with Justin. Justin's going to have to knock some rust off. He hasn't played (a full game) since the second game a year ago. That's a long time now. We just assume he's going to get out there and look like Lynn Swann or somebody. It doesn't go like that. He's going to be rusty. Game speed's different. We're going to have to stay patient."
Throughout his college career, Rogers has demonstrated a knack for creating big plays on the field and unwanted headlines off it.
Enough reports surfaced about Rogers' tenuous status on the team late last season that Dooley released a statement indicating the star receiver hadn't been suspended or dismissed. When Rogers sat out a practice this spring, it led to rumors that he was considering a transfer. Rogers later said he was dealing with personal issues and never thought about leaving school. He even talked about helping Tennessee become "a championship-contending team" in 2012.
If Tennessee is going to contend for anything this year, it probably will have to do so without Rogers.