The Jets have several job openings on offense. One is for youthful competition at quarterback. And they may well have a spot for a young, up-and-coming wide receiver.
Any Volunteers? Why, yes we do. Two, in fact.
“It’s a small football world,” said Matt Simms.
Simms is the first-year QB with North Jersey roots who spent his last two college seasons with the University of Tennessee, then worked his way onto the Jets roster last offseason. Now he’s back for a second go-round in green and, like all the QBs on this roster, learning a new offense in coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s West Coast scheme.
And one of the wideouts he’s playing pitch and catch with these days is Zach Rogers, the 6’0″, 177-pounder out of Nashville who was viewed by more than a few draftniks as one of the top undrafted wideouts available following the end of Round 7 last month.
“Coach Ryan and Mr. Idzik were very passionate about me coming here,” Rogers told me in the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center locker room recently. “They preached open competition and that’s really all I want. I wanted a shot to make a name for myself and try to make an impact on this team.”
And where did Rogers play his college ball? Tennessee, of course. In fact, he and Simms teamed up on several occasions in the 2010 and ’11 seasons, most notably on a 72-yard touchdown catch-and-run early in the Vols’ 32-29 OT win over Alabama-Birmingham in 2010.
“It’s good to be back teammates with Matt again. He’s a good guy,” Rogers said. “He’s very intelligent. I learned a lot from him. And he’s still got a cannon.”
Simms returns the compliments.
“Zach’s definitely a fast guy, he plays fast, and he’s a really smart guy,” he said. “There’s not too much on the field that he’s not aware of.”
The two didn’t have a lot of connections on the field, only 13 catches in those two seasons (but for 212 yards, a 16.3 average per catch). That’s because Rogers didn’t play a lot in ’10, both were limited in ’11, and last year Simms was gone. Before he departed for the pros, he recalled a business course the two had together. After one class, the two got to talking and Rogers said he was taking his education very seriously because he didn’t think the NFL would be in his future.
“You have the talent,” Simms told him then. “You never know what’s going to happen. It’s a long season.”
Last season at Tennessee, Rogers, despite divvying up passes from Tyler Bray with a pair of top draft picks-to-be — Cordarrelle Patterson went 29th to the Vikings, Justin Hunter 34th to the Titans — Rogers finished with 32 catches for 491 yards (15.3 avg.) and seven TDs, which attracted the attention of the aforementioned Rex Ryan and John Idzik.
“The Rogers kid, we expected him to look good, and he was a tremendous player at Tennessee, albeit he never started because of the other two guys,” Ryan said. “But he was very productive there and he really did a nice job of running routes and catching the football.”
“I was always hoping to get drafted,” Rogers said, “but at the same time this was the hand I was dealt so I’m trying to make the most of it. I was blessed to play with those big-time receivers, though. I learned a lot from them.”
“Remember that story you were trying to tell me?” Simms told Rogers when they were reunited in North Jersey. “It proved to be wrong. It just goes to show that a year or two can really make the difference.”
Now for the disclaimer. Rogers has a long road ahead to get onto the Jets’ regular-season roster, being that he’s one of 13 wideouts, with five of them veterans. And Simms, even though he’s now in a four-man QB competition after David Garrard apparently withdrew due to his ongoing knee issues, knows the field is still crowded.
“But right now I’m just going to take it day by day, improve on one thing at a time, and just go from there, really,” he said. “I’m going to keep my head in the playbook and just keep working.”
Same thing for Rogers, a volunteer no more, who worked a lot out of the slot during the rookie minicamp.
“I’m trying to learn as much as I can. Coach [Sanjay] Lal is teaching me little technique things that maybe I didn’t think about in college,” he said. “I think it’s going pretty well. I’m just trying to learn the offense the best I can and work with my new teammates. It’s a great opportunity for me and really I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Tags: Cordarrelle Patterson, John Idzik, Justin Hunter, Matt Simms, Rex Ryan, rookie minicamp, Sanjay Lal, Zach Rogers
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