of football enjoy special teams," says Cowboys' special teams coach Bruce Read. "They like blocking, tackling, running, all the things you do as a football player. They're competitive and they know they can help and make a difference. Justin is great like that. He was amazing last year, coming in and playing for real in less than a week. He's steady, smart, and coachable, and he doesn't make mistakes."
New linebackers coach Reggie Herring appreciates Rogers' versatility. "He's the ultimate utility guy," says Herring. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself to learn every position, not just the ones he's playing. That's a show of respect to his teammates. He'll know where they're expected to be so he knows where to go. You're going to have injuries, and it's important to have people like him who do a solid job and you know will handle whatever you give them. He's going to be a valuable guy on our team."
But especially in the kicking game, where Rogers was on all of the special teams "Big 4" last year: kickoff coverage and return, punt coverage and return. His favorite?
"Kickoff. Absolutely kickoff. You get to go knock some heads on that. The blocking part kind of puts you on the other side of the ball, on the offense. But yeah, kickoff, definitely. You get to get a full head of steam and go knock some heads."
Talking with Justin Rogers is incongruous with this embracing of violent collisions. At 6-4 and 250, the blond, thick-necked Rogers has the winning grin and unfailing polite demeanor you expect to find in Greenville. But his SMU resume shows a knack for big defensive plays: second in school history in sacks, first team all-Conference USA as a senior. Nose for the ball. Motor. Football player.
And Saturday night in San Diego, Justin Rogers will show the rookies how to compete and make an impression.
"I tell all the young guys," he says, " you just have to keep competing. Even if you mess up, you have to put one foot in front of the other and keep performing. Like last year, I was so uncertain if New England was going to keep me, but it's a job interview. If not the team you're with right then, you have other teams looking at you. That's what happened to me."
Now, with a year under his belt in the league, Rogers knows he can play at this level. He's more relaxed and comfortable because he's more confident. "You get to jell with the guys, get the feeling for the system, the calls, the coaches. It's a different experience."
Justin Rogers knows he and Kevin Burnett and Bobby Carpenter have to be leaders on the special teams if the team is to be successful. He knows he has to make the most of the opportunities he gets to play linebacker. Justin Rogers is smart. He knows that you have to have Tony Romos and DeMarcus Wares to win in the NFL. But he also knows you have to have a few Justin Rogers.
Saturday night, don't ask the family to leave early. This is when Justin Rogers gets to play, and he's going to make the most of it.