Gary Parrish, college basketball writer for CBSSports.com, has a Knucklehead Rule. It cynically, but accurately, states "once a knucklehead, almost always a knucklehead." Of course, there is room for redemption, and we do all love a good redemption story. But while the "almost" gives a glimmer of hope, the "always" faces us with the cold, hard reality that redemption stories are the exception, not the norm.
And Da'Rick Rogers, one of Tennessee's most talented players, has undoubtedly been a knucklehead. Before his freshman year, he was arrested in the Bar Knoxville incident. Since then, it's been a question of whether his talent on the field or his attitude problems off the field would prevail. Rumors swirled about fights with multiple assistant coaches, about grade concerns, about a lackadaisical performance in that fateful Kentucky game because he didn't want a cold-weather December bowl game. When the seniors accused some of the younger players of only caring about their stats, Da'Rick Rogers, who was just one good performance from the single-season receiving record, sprung immediately to everyone's mind.
And now, Rogers has some "internal" things to work out before returning to Tennessee, as Dooley told the media after today's practice. We have no details, but the situation with Janzen Jackson from last summer immediately springs to mind. He did enough to be reinstated and then promptly failed a drug test and was dismissed. Furthermore, the Scout site for Georgia State is reporting that Rogers will transfer there and be eligible immediately. When asked about it in the interview, Dooley claimed to be unaware. Whatever the truth may be, we know that Rogers' future in Knoxville is far from solid.
And it's unclear exactly how losing Rogers would affect Tennessee. On one hand, the Vols will undoubtedly miss his enormous talent. His tough-as-nails catch against Cincinnati was one of the most memorable moments in a game last year that made Vol fans feel good about the direction of the program, if only for one short week. And his unbelievable 4th down touchdown catch against Vanderbilt sent the Vols into overtime, setting up Eric Gordon's chance to be a hero in the most dramatic game of the season.
On the other hand, focus was always an issue. Will said you could make an argument, and I did make the argument, that the 14-3 loss to South Carolina would've been vastly different had Da'Rick made a relatively easy touchdown catch to put the Vols on top. And we'll never know the extent to which the off-field drama affected the team. Sometimes losing a talented player can cause the team to pull together and make an incredible run. And sometimes it leaves you in a key situation in an overtime game with a secondary of Marsalis Teague, Eric Gordon, Izauea Lanier, Rod Wilks, and Byron Moore.
One thing we know is that Tennessee, with Rogers, has the talent to be one of the best passing offenses in the country. Tyler Bray's arm is no secret, Justin Hunter is a generational talent (please, please, please be fully recovered), and Cordarrelle Patterson is the next can't miss JuCo recruit. Without Rogers, Tennessee is just where they were last year. With two talented starters and nothing behind them but freshmen and Zach Rogers.
If it's still on the table, I could go for a redemption story. Da'Rick, be the "almost," not the "always."