ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Eager to put behind his troubled past, receiver Da’Rick Rogers is grateful to the Buffalo Bills for providing him a shot at a future.
And this, the undrafted rookie openly acknowledges, just might be the only chance he’ll get.
"I cherish it like gold. This is it. This is my last opportunity," Rogers said shortly after joining his new teammates in opening the Bills three-day rookie minicamp this weekend. "I’ve got to make the best of it."
Tapping the podium for emphasis, Rogers expressed confidence that he’s "growing as a person," and capable overcoming a tarnished reputation. Suspended indefinitely by Tennessee last summer for failing numerous drug tests as a sophomore, Rogers transferred to Tennessee Tech shortly before the season began.
"Everything in the past, I’m not here to defend those things at all," said Rogers said. "Those are things that are real. They happened. And I’m maturing."
Aside from the attention focused on first-round pick, quarterback EJ Manuel, who made his on-field debut in preparing to compete for the starting job, Rogers is the most intriguing prospect attending Bills camp.
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, he showed potential as a first-time starter during his sophomore season at Tennessee. He led the Volunteers with 67 catches for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns.
Last year, he had 893 yards receiving and tied a single-season Tennessee Tech record with 10 touchdown catches.
None of that production helped Rogers in overcoming concerns NFL teams had in the months leading up to the draft. Despite being regarded among the top 10 draft-eligible receiver prospects, all 32 teams passed on making Rogers one of the draft’s 254 selections.
It was a wakeup call and another reminder for Rogers of how far his stock had fallen.
"Oh, man, it was devastating," he said. "I feel like I was one of the top receivers in the draft, but with the off-the-field issues that I had, the things that I was doing, it hit me and it hurt me."
It’s also an experience that has motivated him to do better.
"It just makes the chip on my shoulder that much bigger," Rogers said. "There’s a lot of doubters and a lot of haters out there. I’m here not to prove them wrong, but to show who I am and what I’m really about."
The Bills showed interest in Rogers. Team officials, including coach Doug Marrone, met with the receiver at the NFL combine in February. And the Bills included Rogers as one of the 30 prospects teams are allowed to bring in to their facility for a pre-draft visit.
That wasn’t enough to convince Buffalo to draft Rogers. The team instead addressed its needs at receiver by selecting Southern California’s Robert Woods in the second round and Texas speedster Marquise Goodwin in the third. After the draft, the Bills decided to take a chance on Rogers.
All three will be given chances to earn regular roles on an offence that lacks an established receiver opposite Stevie Johnson.
Marrone is both intrigued by Rogers, and concerned by the player’s past.
"It’s a one-shot deal," Marrone said during a conference call with Bills season-ticket holders last week. "Either you’ve learned your lesson and you’ve grown up and you’re going to go forward and mature, or you haven’t learned your lesson and you’re going to be out on the street. It’s that simple."
It’s a message the coach has shared with Rogers.
"It’s all on you, and you have to make the right decisions," Marrone said following practice Friday.
Rogers had an inconsistent debut at practice. Though he made a few sharp catches particularly in traffic, there were numerous times when he bobbled the ball in the open field.
Marrone chalked up Rogers’ performance to someone trying to catch up to the speed of practice after a long layoff.
Rogers assessed his outing as "pretty good," and noted he was getting accustomed to being back in a practice setting.
"You’ve got to come in here and grab it by the horns," Rogers said, recalling words of advice he received from Marrone. "Come in here and be a professional, be accountable and everything will work out the way it’s supposed to. So that’s the way I’m going to handle things up here, do everything I can the best way."