The transition has been relatively seamless, given Rogers’s previous work inside. The Arlington, Tex. native has had plenty of exposure across the entire defensive line throughout his UNC career.
“Once you start to learn other positions in this type of defense that we have, it makes it a lot easier because you begin to understand what the position next to you does,” Rogers said. “So with the pass rush, if you have a certain two-way go or if you’re setting up a gap, you know who you’re setting up the gap for, so it allows you to be able to make more plays.”
As such, the added responsibility that comes with learning a different position – without much leeway coming from associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning – has been manageable.
“Last season, there was even one game where I had to play bandit, so for me, expectations are not something that bother me coming from Vic,” Rogers said on Thursday. “Once you get everything down for all of the positions, it’s up to you from then on. Coach Vic can say this and that, but at the end of the day, it’s how you play and if you execute.”
Rogers is the only returning player that UNC has moved from the outside to the interior due to the preseason attrition, although true freshman Robert Dinkins was originally slated for end before being moved to tackle.
“It’s good to have a guy that can play both positions,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said of Rogers. “A guy that’s smart enough, a guy that is dependable enough to do that and he’s doing a great job.”
Rogers, who checks in at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, is roughly 15 pounds lighter than Thomason, his predecessor at the three-technique, and roughly 20 pounds lighter than Tim Jackson, UNC’s three-technique starter in 2013. He’s making up for his lack of size, however, with plenty of quickness.
“Tim was almost 290 or 300 pounds, but I use my speed a lot more,” Rogers said. “Doing inside movements, I try to get a better edge or go laterally. I try to use my speed as much as I can on pass rush inside.”
Rogers is still getting plenty of work at defensive end – with the first team, no less - in Koenning’s money package, which is designed to inject speed into the lineup and often used on passing downs.
“When it comes to defensive end, that’s what I call my home,” Rogers said. “When I get the chance to actually line up out there, I try to take my game up to a whole other level, so I can show them that I can still play that position just in case something happens and I have to move back to the D-end position.”
Versatility is a key ingredient for Koenning’s 4-2-5 scheme to thrive. It’s also a beneficial characteristic to possession when adversity presents itself in the form of attrition.
Instead of balking at the position changes, Rogers has established himself as a critical member of the defensive line due in part to his flexibility.