For two seasons cornerback Justin Rogers was one of the young guys constantly in the ear of veteran players just trying to figure out life in the NFL. Entering his third year, Rogers finds himself on the other end of the rookie-veteran dynamic in a young Bills defensive back corps. At 25, Rogers is the third-oldest cornerback on a roster whose secondary has an average age of 23.
"Oh yeah I am," said a surprised Rogers. "I didn't even know that. This is my third year and I'm only 25…that's crazy."
Although he may have unknowingly become one of the "old" guys, Rogers has quickly taken up the mantle of leader and teacher for the seven fresh faces in Buffalo's secondary.
"[The rookies] ask me questions and stuff like that and I take pride in trying to help other guys out," Rogers said of taking on a leadership role. "I was in the same position when I came in and I was asking all kinds of questions to the older guys so I know. It's not a really veteran group we have. Leodis (McKelvin) is the most experienced, but I do have a couple years so I try to help when I can."
While Rogers is happy to help the newbies ascend the learning curve, the cornerback is also focused on an opportunity that has him in new yet familiar territory. With Leodis McKelvin still not full go in practice as he recovers from offseason groin surgery, Rogers has been getting first team reps at cornerback on the outside opposite Stephon Gilmore. Rogers mostly matched up on the outside at the University of Richmond, but he found playing time in the slot in his first two seasons in Buffalo.
"It's two different mindsets," said Rogers. "In the slot it's quicker guys and they're off the line so you can't really get your hands on them, and they've got a lot of space to operate with. On the outside you can take away more because they're on one side of the field and they can only work so far."
When it comes down to it, Rogers has no preference between the two positions and finds comfort in knowing his athleticism and experience will help him succeed wherever the coaching staff lines him up.
"[My strengths are] mostly just my quickness and instincts and just knowing what to do and understanding the game," explained Rogers. "At this point it's more about knowing what to do when you get on this level because everybody's fast and everybody's athletic, so you really set yourself apart from guys by knowing what to do."
The opportunity to work with the first team is an exciting prospect for Rogers, and he is not wasting the chance to put in live work in front of the new coaching staff.
"Whenever you get extra reps it's a time to showcase what you can do," said Rogers. "Injuries happen and guys can go down and it's the next man up. Whether it's OTAs, training camp, or it happens in the season, guys get injured and the next guy has to step up."
At the conclusion of the fifth day of OTAs Tuesday, defensive backs coach Donnie Henderson was pleased with the work he has seen out of Rogers and his teammates.
"Justin, along with Gilmore, along with (Da'Norris) Searcy, they all are working hard at their craft, and that's all you can ask for them right now," said Henderson. "You know, you're learning a new defense, you're learning new coverages, you're trying to learn a new technique, you're trying to go fast, you're trying not to make a mental mistake. In that case all of them are doing as much as you can ask for."
Henderson added, "Specifically, Rogers [is] athletic. I think he's got good athleticism."
Bills fans can be sure this young group will never lack for energy. OTAs have been running at a rigorous pace, with Coach Henderson constantly pushing and jawing with the secondary.
"I think any time can create an atmosphere that the energy level is high I think what it does it helps the players energy, motivates them a little bit, [and] keeps practice fun with a lot of enthusiasm," said Henderson.
With McKelvin sidelined, the Bills will continue to plug Rogers in with the first team where he will build on the experience he has garnered over two seasons and try to secure a spot near the top of the depth chart.