It is always difficult to watch a young college football player go down with an injury. This season we have already seen several young men have season-ending injuries. While some players can be replaced, others can derail a team's season.
Sometimes it is better for the team if the injury happens early on. For example, Arkansas lost Knile Davis and has been able to set up a running back by committee approach. While this approach will not be able to match the production of an elite player like Davis, at least they did have time for preparation.
Tennessee, on the other hand, watched Justin Hunter go down just a few minutes into a crucial game against a division rival. It was supposed to be a statement game for the Volunteers. Instead, it could be the start of a disappointing season.
Hunter has quickly become one of the true stars of the SEC. While Alshon Jeffery might be the most-known SEC wide receiver, Hunter was making his case as the most effective one. In his first two games, he had 16 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns. However, in one play his career was put on pause, and the nation would have to wait next season to see the fullness of his potential.
What does the loss of Hunter mean for the rest of the Volunteers season? In regards to their next game, it means very little because Tennessee will be hosting the Buffalo Bulls. However, Week 6 begins one of the toughest stretches in all of college football. In consecutive weeks the Vols will face UGA, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina.
If the Volunteers won’t to avoid an 0-4 stretch during the month of October, Da’rick Rogers will need to step up his game. Combined Rogers and Hunter were one of the top one-two punches in the nation. However, there has to be legitimate concerns that Rogers can be the clear No. 1.
Rogers' stats this season have been phenomenal. He has 20 receptions for 262 yards and four touchdowns. However, that has been with Hunter receiving the bulk of the defensive attention. Can he do it while facing double teams?
Rogers has all of the physical tools. In fact, on paper he might be the most physically gifted wide receiver in the nation. However, he has had a tendency to drop passes that a No. 1 receiver has to make.
I spent several years as a high school scout for a private recruiting firm. As a result, I was able to watch him play two games his senior season of high school. I left with the impression that he was a Julio Jones clone physically. Both of them registered off-the-chart talent wise, but both had problems with consistent hands.
The only negative I could find with Rogers is that he seemed a bit immature and his production took a major dip as the competition got more difficult. To his credit he has appeared to really grow up maturity wise.
The only question that remains is whether he can raise his game to the level of the competition. Can he produce even though he will be the focus of some of the nation’s top defenses? I think Tennessee clearly has the receivers who can slide into the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receiver positions.
We will not know the answer to these questions until October arrives. However, I am not willing to bet against such a talent as Da’rick Rogers.