NASHVILLE – When he takes the field for Sunday’s game against Arizona, Tennessee Titans wide receiver Chester Rogers will be doing so for the first time in over 21 months.
But what an opportunity awaits.
The last time Rogers played in a regular-season game was Dec. 1, 2019, when – on his first snap against the Titans that day – the former Indianapolis Colts receiver suffered a fractured kneecap while run-blocking. That incident not only led to Rogers going on injured reserve for the remainder of the 2019 season, but also hampered him to the point he wasn’t able to earn an NFL roster spot with Miami in 2020.
Things didn’t turn out all so badly last year, though, as Rogers took what amounted to a redshirt year in Nashville.
The Titans signed the 27-year-old to the practice squad last September, giving him a full season to become familiar with the team’s system and personnel. It also gave Rogers the opportunity to critically evaluate his career, which at that point consisted of four seasons in Indianapolis, where he’d caught 111 passes for 1,221 yards (11.0 yards per catch) and five touchdowns. Rogers’ numbers had dipped in 2019, as he’d caught just 16 passes in 12 games after totaling a career-high 53 in 16 games the previous season.
“It was a mental year for me more than anything,” Rogers said of spending 2020 on the Titans’ practice squad. “Outside of rehabbing, just grasping the game and everything slowed down for me, so I really took advantage of it.
“I think it positioned me a lot – showing them my ability, coming off the injury and going against the guys in practice, the first-team defense. Showing I can win against those guys, I think it put me in the perfect position (this season).”
Sure enough, Rogers excelled in training camp, where he was – along with another former Colt, Marcus Johnson – one of the team’s most targeted wide receivers. He also performed efficiently in the three preseason games, needing just a combined 11 route-running snaps to catch three passes for 39 yards.
It may have been a mild surprise to see Rogers’ name listed as one of the three starting receivers on the Titans’ first unofficial depth chart of the regular season. But it shouldn’t have been a shock. The 6-foot, 184-pound Rogers was much more available and productive during camp than free-agent acquisition Josh Reynolds.
Additionally, Rogers has transformed himself into a slot receiver over the past few years. He played more outside during his first two seasons in Indianapolis, when the Colts featured T.Y. Hilton inside. But Rogers moved into that position in 2018, playing almost 900 snaps in the slot over the next two seasons combined.
“That slot is different from the outside,” Rogers said. “You’ve got a lot of different looks. I’m either going against a nickel, a safety or linebacker. Everything is changing. You got to be a very smart player playing in the slot. I take it very seriously.”
It stands to reason that Rogers should benefit from playing alongside Brown and Jones, with defenses paying more attention to the Titans’ two Pro Bowlers on the outside. Who could ask for more as a third receiver?
“To me, I don’t have to put no pressure on myself,” Rogers said. “When you got a great group of guys, you’ve just got to do your job and let the game come to you. Don’t have to go out there and be nothing that you’re not. Just let it come to me.”
Then there’s his expected special-teams contributions. Rogers has returned 60 punts for 551 yards (9.1-yard average in his career), and he flashed big-play ability during the preseason, returning a punt 57 yards against Atlanta. With Darrynton Evans out, Rogers is also the team’s kick returner, a role he’s occupied a handful of times over the years.
Three opportunities to contribute, following a year in which he couldn’t get on an active roster.
Perhaps good things do come to those who wait.
“I think this opportunity now is just as rewarding as when I came in as an undrafted free agent my rookie year,” Rogers said. “I’m really going out there and I earn every single day. I’m not taking it for granted. Every opportunity I get, I’m taking full advantage of it.”