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Mon., Nov. 24, 2014 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM CST
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Local Standout Rogers Turning Heads In WR Depth Chart Battle
OXNARD, Calif. – Even among the famous names he shares the field with, it’s not hard to spot wide receiver Eric Rogers during a Cowboys practice.
Take your pick on how the California native stands out. He’s one of just three rookies in an 11-man receiver corps – he is literally among handful of pass catchers on a team of superstars with no star on his helmet.
He stands tall above the rest of the Cowboys’ receivers at 6-foot-3, and that presence is magnified by the recent absence of Dez Bryant from practice.
And of course most importantly, as plenty can attest, is Rogers’ penchant for coming down with a convincing number of impressive catches – something that is bringing the newcomer plenty of attention.
“It’s nothing too special, I make catches here and there when I have opportunities, but I still have a long way to go,” Rogers said. “I’ve got to learn some of the hot adjustments and stuff like that – listen to Coach Dooley, listen to the vets and try to do whatever they tell me.”
Rogers has been catching attention since he signed a free agent contract with the Cowboys following this spring’s draft. Whether it’s fellow rookie B.W. Webb or a veteran corner such as Orlando Scandrick, Rogers has shown an innate ability to go up and grab hold of hard-to-reach balls, making several highlight catches in the process.
“Eric's a big target, and he's got really good hands, so when he's had those opportunities to catch a football, he's made the play,” said Cowboys receivers coach Derek Dooley. “Of course, what he's got to work on like most rookies is getting open.”
That wasn’t a problem 20 miles east of training camp, where Rogers played his college ball. Rogers was a phenom at nearby Division III Cal Lutheran, compiling 3,461 career receiving yards and 41 career receiving touchdowns – including 18 scores as a senior.
The lanky wideout carried that production over to rookie minicamp, and he has used the opportunity to make it to Oxnard, just up the road from his hometown of Glendora, Calif.
“The weather is nice -- everyone says we’re spoiled by the weather. But a lot of people come out to support, and I see them after practice when I can,” Rogers said. “It’s always good to see some familiar faces.”
Rogers is unique during this wide receiver competition for yet another reason in his skillset. While guys like Dwayne Harris, Williams and Coale Beasley are competing for time in the slot, Rogers focuses purely as an outside receiver.
“I’m strictly outside right now, but once -- eventually once I get comfortable and learn more of the offense I can probably play Z, too, and Z has a few more slot formations,” he said.
That gives Rogers plenty of opportunity to work against the Cowboys’ plethora of physical cornerbacks. The team’s transition to a Tampa 2 scheme makes this camp especially interesting, as the physical press coverage required by the system is quite a challenge for young receivers.
“These defensive backs … I think the first shock is how good they are up here,” Dooley said. “Then, it’s figuring out what kind of work it takes to beat that kind of coverage. That’s probably the biggest adjustment for a receiver.”
That challenge likely goes more so for Rogers, who sacrifices some bulk due to his length. For example, both Bryant and Miles Austin, each only an inch shorter than Rogers, weigh in at 222 pounds and 216 pounds, respectively, to Rogers’ 210 pounds.
Rogers said that length is his greatest asset, but that goes both ways when working against NFL coverage.
“I have longer legs so I have to make sure I break down in my routes,” he said. “And with my long arms, when I get pressed, I have to make sure I keep my arms tight when I swat their arms away.”
That hasn’t hampered his progress to this early point in camp. In fact, behind then obvious names – Bryant, Austin, Harris, Williams – Rogers is one of the names heard most during the competition for wide receiver roster spots.
“All those players are good players, and I’m just trying to stick around with the team in any way possible,” Rogers said. “If I can bring something different to the table I feel like I’ll be able to stick around, whether it’s practice squad or anything."
The privileged few in Oxnard have already seen Rogers stand out to this point. His first chance to grab hold of a larger audience is rapidly approaching, when the Cowboys face Miami on Sunday night. That in itself would be an accomplishment, before he allows himself to dream any bigger.
“Coming into camp, that was my goal – to play in a preseason NFL game. That would be a dream come true, and that’s my first goal,” he said. “Once I get there I’ll be able to make some more goals after that.”