Door is wide open for Casey Rogers this spring.
You never want to lose talent to the injury shelf, but it sounds like sixth-year senior defensive end Ben Stille was headed for a reduced spring workload anyway. In his absence—Stille had surgery before the spring that will keep him out through the spring—Nebraska can divvy up some reps for young guys needing development.
Line coach Tony Tuioti said Wednesday he probably doesn’t have enough reps to go around if every guy in the room is healthy and available. With Stille stuck on the sideline for the spring, Nebraska has an interesting opportunity to develop what Tuioti called the bottom of the roster and help it catch up with the top.
For a guy like Rogers, who a season ago could probably best be described as somewhere in the middle, this spring is an opportunity.
“To a football player, reps are the most important thing you can get,” Rogers said.
He was third in defensive snaps played last season among lineman, so he got plenty of burn there. The sophomore was productive in his action, too, posting a career high 25 tackles, five havoc plays, and a sack.
“A guy like Casey Rogers, people had a question mark about him, they didn’t know what he was going to bring to the table,” Tuioti said. “He’s got (eight) games under his belt (now) and he’s coming into this season, in my opinion, playing right now where he left off.”
He missed the 2018 season, his first year, entirely due to injury. He played in four games in 2019. Rogers’ first career tackle came against Ohio State in the 2020 season-opener.
“He was doing it last spring and I knew from the things he was showing me in spring ball (and) training camp that he was going to play well for us come the season,” Tuioti said. “And now he’s taken that to the next level now.”
Rogers’ development this spring could swing some stuff on the defensive line. He grew a lot as a pass-rusher last season, and Nebraska rewarded him with more opportunity there as the year went on. One of the things you love to see from d-lineman, Rogers already does; when he’s not going to get to the quarterback, he gets his hands up. Twice against Minnesota he had a batted ball at the line of scrimmage.
If defensive coordinator Erik Chinander sticks with the tendency to roll out a 2-5 front in pass-rushing situations, Rogers’ snaps should grow even more.
“As a whole defensive front, I think we need to be better in pass-rush at closing the pocket and trapping the quarterback,” Rogers said. They don’t want 1.5 sacks (or 1.6, what the whole defense averaged each game) from the d-line, they want four. “I think we did a decent job of that last year, but it can always get better.”
Tuioti talks about earning the right to rush the passer.
Rogers talked Wednesday about earning the right to just get on the field.
“You’ve got to deserve those reps,” he said. “You’ve got to go out there and show that you’ve earned those reps. I think that’s a personal focus for everyone.
“We’re not losing anyone, so I’m either going to have to really step up my game to pass someone or I’m just going to be where I was last year.”
And Rogers wants to make a leap.
“Right now, I’m taking this spring as a way to make an even bigger jump in my game,” he said. “Last year I felt I had a pretty good season, next year I plan on having a way better season. I think this spring is key for my development and being able to make that jump on the field.”
Tuioti seems to love the young lineman. Rogers is coachable and attentive in meetings. “The thing for him is to continue to push himself,” Tuioti said.
Door’s open. Get yourself through it. And get yourself through it before the other guy. Rogers isn’t the only guy in the d-line room hoping to establish themselves. Tuioti says no one is “established,” and everyone still has to earn their keep.
“It’s tough because I love Ty to death but I want all of his reps,” Rogers said.
Potential Blackshirt talking right there.
“A Blackshirt will mean the world to me,” Rogers said, “but once I get it, it’s not going to stop me from working as hard as I can.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.