“We Have Better Players” – What The Release Of Da’Rick Rogers Tells Us About Doug Marrone

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Updated: August 29, 2013
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“…we feel that we have better players…”*

The preceding statement was one of two core components of Doug Marrone’s explaination as to why the Bills released wide receiver Da’Rick Rogers in advance of the NFL’s roster cut deadline. The move was sure to send many Buffaloanians into histrionics, as Rogers entered training camp full of potential and promise. His off-field issues are as well-documented as his production at Tenessee, but fans were far more interested in his performance as an SEC standout than his mental composition. The situation is much more complicated for those in the locker room than those in the living room however, as Rogers’ ultimate fate has shown.

A sticking point for Rogers’ supporters could justifiably be that mini camp, OTAs and training camp offer but a small window into a player’s overall level of talent. A rush to judgment leaves the door open for Rogers to ding Marrone’s credibility if he produces for another team, for which he will undoubtedbly be given a chance to do. Yet, with the injured Stephon Gilmore and the uncertain Jairus Byrd absoring critical roster slots, there is little time to wait and see, especially in light of another set of comments Marrone made regarding Rogers relative to a fellow rookie receiver in camp:

“What you see with some of the younger players and where I think the separation has come from, Robert Woods for example, has been out there every day consistently doing well and winning routes,” said Marrone. “Da’Rick you’ve seen flashes of him being able to win, so it’s just a matter of consistency.”**

Here, Marrone is flat-out stating that Rogers doesn’t have a rookie problem, but a personal problem. You hear so much talk from the veterans on the team like Fred Jackson, Eric Wood and Kyle Williams about winning every play, every down, every snap, and the accountability that comes along with that. This can be translated to any line of work. How can you be asked to step up to the plate at every turn when the person next to you cannot be relied on to do the same? Perhaps it will take time, understanding, discipline and hard work to coax the accountable adult out of Rogers. If he is truly that type of person deep down, there is a very good chance that he will go on to have a stellar career for another franchise. That kind of maturation process has never been Marrone’s forte, even as a college coach dealing with young adults, as evidenced by recent comments made by a pair of players at Syracuse:

“Coach Marrone, he was always in his office,” (quarterback commit A.J.) Long said. “He was secluded from the world it seemed like when I was up there for my visit with them.”***

“He would treat you like a man,” (offensive lineman and 2013 captain Macky) MacPherson said “But if you don’t do your job, whether it’s go to class or make a block on a play, you’re going to be held accountable. And that’s a very NFL way of viewing it, and it’s also a good way of viewing it. The NFL is a business, and it works.”****

Long paints the picture of Marrone as a man who sees his responsibilities centered on the X’s and O’s, pouring over film to find the data and information his players need to exploit mismatches and weaknesses in order to fulfill their own responsibilities. Time spent attending to issues that should be handled by his players is time lost meeting his own standards as a coach. MacPherson lays out the scenario in more complete terms, leaving little to infer. Marrone expected his college athletes to approach the game with a professional mindset. Can you imagine his reaction to a professional who did not meet his collegial standards? MacPherson specifically mentions that Marrone’s players need to do their job. That brings us to the most illustrative quote of all:

“I’m a big believer on the production part of it right now rather than what are we going to get down the road,” the coach said. “So I think all those players that were released have the ability to play, but we feel as an organization that we just have better players right now.”*

Simply put, Rogers did not earn a roster spot, and to reward him with one on reputation alone would force the team to cut a player who had gone on the field and proven his worth. That’s not just sound football policy – that’s a strong message for a first year head coach to send to his locker room. All reports from training camp have indicated that Chris Hogan and Marcus Easley have put together far more complete performances throughout the summer, and their production in the preseason bears that out. Fans will have a hard time circling the wagons with Easley yet again given his disappointing career to date, especially given the alternative of Rogers, but again, this is a statement to the men in his locker room – meet my standards and you will have a home in Buffalo. Fall short and you will be out of work.

The elephant in the room here is Brad Smith. Injuries have limited his participation in training camp, his preseason production has been less-than-eye-popping and it is hard to imagine him being any sort of focal point in the 2013 offense. He certainly lacks the game-breaking talent that Rogers brings to the table. However, Stevie Johnson is the only experienced professional in the receiving corps. He will occupy an important role in the maturation process of his younger counterparts, but adding Smith to the fold brings another veteran presence that can show the rookies and sophomores how a professional approaches the day-to-day grind of an NFL season. Their head coach certainly isn’t planning on holding anyone’s hand. Having a peer do the work seems like an appropriate allocation of time and resources in the overall structure of the team.

Truly, Rogers’ release tells us more about Marrone than Rogers himself. In past years, I would have thrown my arms up in frustration at this move, believing that a team bereft of talent cannot spare the potential Rogers brings. Yet, as I mentioned in my final installment of the Return to Relevance series, my expectations for this team are completely unlike any recent year, and that’s due to the plan put in place by upper management at One Bills Drive, Marrone included. Rogers may flourish down the road, but there’s a game to be played on September 6, and today, “we feel that we have better players.”

*Credit Jay Skurski, Buffalo News, 8/26
**Credit Chris Brown, Buffalobills.com, 8/19
***Credit Steve Neikam, ESPN Radio 97.7/101.7, 7/11
****Credit Michael Cohen, syracuse.com, 7/26