Armani Rogers hit a ceiling as a college QB — but not yet as a Commanders TE

Armani Rodgers had about two weeks to abandon his career as a quarterback, start over as a tight end and look decent enough at the new position to win over NFL scouts and executives.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound athlete spent his entire career throwing the ball, whether as a tight end first baseman in baseball or a dual-threat quarterback at UNLV and then Ohio University in football. As.

But when the 2021 college season ended and the NFL draft approached, Rodgers was prompted to make an abrupt switch, leaving him with little time to learn the basics of the new position before the pre-draft storm begins.

“I knew I had a lot to gain and really nothing to lose in this situation,” he said. “These guys that I’m playing against are great college players who have played the position their whole lives. If I can go out there and show some potential, I know some teams are willing to take a chance. will

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Just 10 months into his NFL career, Rodgers has shown more than just “a little ability.” The 24-year-old has emerged as a valuable asset to the offense and special teams commanders. His coaches see his transition to tight end as less than extraordinary, but it’s his potential that makes him even more intriguing.

“To predict that he’s going to end up tough, I can’t tell you that I’ve seen it, because you really have to give Armani,” said Eric Stokes, Washington’s senior director of player personnel. Will be.” “What he did is, quite frankly, remarkable.”

Commanders have made a habit of turning talented players into multi-talented weapons. Take Antonio Gibson, Washington’s leading running back who was a wide receiver at the University of Memphis. Or Logan Thomas, a former quarterback who, like Rodgers, switched tight ends. Or JD McKissic, another back who converted from receiver at the pro level.

Rodgers’ blocking skills remain raw, but his speed and strength could be an asset in the pass game — especially considering new quarterback Carson Wentz’s fondness for his tight ends. Since 2017, when he helped lead the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl, Wentz has targeted the second-most tight ends among qualified quarterbacks behind only the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson.

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In Washington’s Week 1 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Wentz only targeted Rodgers once, but the catch offered a glimpse of what could be.

On a screenplay, Rodgers broke into the flat, caught a short pass, then spun a defender and saw nothing but the open field. He picked up 23 yards before being pushed out of bounds.

Four plays later, the commanders were in the end zone.

“You look at Armani and his athleticism, and I think that’s a skill set that’s going to continue to grow well for us in terms of his ability to go forward and catch and run the ball,” coach Ron Rivera said. “

The Washington staff took notice of Rogers well before he arrived in Washington. He appeared on executive vice president Marty Hurney’s radar when he was general manager of the Carolina Panthers.

At UNLV, Rodgers set several school records, including the school career mark for net rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,549. He is the only quarterback in UNLV history to rush for at least 100 net yards in six games and, in 2017, was one of only five players nationwide to average at least 140 passing yards and per. The game has 75 rushing yards.

“Marty and I actually watched him early on at UNLV when he was the quarterback,” Stokes said. “He wore No. 1, and he looked like Cam Newton in terms of his height and his eyes. But you could see he wasn’t necessarily going to be a quarterback.

At Ohio, Rodgers set the FBS record for longest run by a quarterback at 99 yards. But he didn’t start a single game, and his future as an NFL quarterback was over. So his agents, Frank Bauer and Kenny Chapman, pushed for a position switch.

“I knew I wanted to be in the NFL, and not playing quarterback my last year and not doing any film the last two years or whatever, I just knew it was the next level for me. There’s an opportunity to reach out,” Rogers said. “I have to do what I have to do to be on an NFL team.”

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Rogers’ father, Sam Rogers, was a linebacker in the league for 10 years, with three different teams. Sam was reluctant to change his son’s position. But eventually he supported the move.

Sam Rogers said he had a tough two years at Ohio University. “And when you’ve got a kid like Armani who loves to compete, loves to be on the field, doesn’t say anything bad about other kids, but he just knows he’s better than the kid he’s playing. were putting it forward. Sometimes it takes the wind out of you.”

A move to tight end offered Rodgers a clean slate. Once she made her decision, she called her longtime trainer Travel Gaines and asked for his help.

“I thought he was crazy,” Gaines recalled. “But he worked so hard, it just makes sense that he’s where he is now.”

For two weeks in January, Rogers ran three days of early morning workouts that focused on strength followed by recovery sessions, afternoon workouts that focused on speed and agility, and then afternoon workouts. Sessions worked on tight end nuances. Position – Blocking, Pass Catching and Route Running. The latter comes almost naturally, perhaps due to Rodgers’ years of watching and working with wideouts as a quarterback.

“The first time he really ran the routes was at the East-West Shrine game,” Gaines said. “But he just wanted to get better and perfect his craft.”

Rodgers also worked with Steve Calhoun, a private quarterbacks coach in California who was one of the Commanders’ 2022 Bill Walsh NFL Diversity Coaching Fellows, and was supported by his father, who made a living Covered heads and shared everything. It made his job difficult.

“It was tough. At first I took him to the field just to see if he could catch,” Sam Rogers said. “I knew he could catch basically in the shotgun, but Knowing that he can grab onto her shoulder, behind her back, and all of that, twists her body. So I took him to the field and said, ‘Wow. You have really good hands.’ “

Although Rodgers was one of the lesser-known invitees to the East-West Shrine Bowl, Eric Galko, director of football operations and player personnel for the game, followed him for years. Rodgers didn’t have any game tape to share of himself as a tight end, but Galko received clips of him training and they were interesting.

“He’s a good case study in how to have the right approach while scouting, because just the fact that he was able to be a proper route runner and knew what he was doing, impressed him,” Galko said. Who was it.” “The really impressive thing he showed was the subtle stuff — using his hands consistently against linebackers to get that late-breaking separation that’s so important for a tight end, a nickel corner. A slight adjustment of the opposite shoulder when he is doing the corner route

In isolation, none of those things are like, ‘Oh, I’m an NFL guy.’ But I think probably everyone he played against was either drafted or made the practice roster at linebacker or cornerback. And the fact that he won consistently … and knowing that he learned the position only weeks ago, everyone asked the question: what will he be like in three months or three years for the commanders?

“Is he the next Logan Thomas?”

Before the East-West game, Galko said, no NFL team recommended Rodgers. They weren’t against him playing, but they didn’t advocate seeing him there either.

“But after the incident, yes, he was quite the talking point for a lot of NFL officials,” Galko said.

Especially Washington. Hurney and the Washington scout squad attended a full week of practice and games in Las Vegas. Their interest in Rodgers grew after his pro day at UCLA, where he recorded a 4.58 40-yard dash and jumped 34 inches on his vertical. Rodgers was undrafted, and chose to sign with Washington, knowing how much the Commanders had invested in him over the years.

It helped that Rodgers’ agents, Kenny Chapman and Frank Bauer, also represented Hurney, Commanders coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew. He also represented former Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas, a basketball player at Portland State who played one season of football before going pro.

Same type of model for Armani. We thought he would be recognized for his athleticism, and sure enough,” Chapman said. “We call him Julius Thomas 2.0.”

If Rodgers needs an example of what’s possible, he needs to look no further than the guy starting in front of him. Washington, in recent years, has come to favor modified tight ends. Logan Thomas, a former Virginia Tech standout, entered the league as a quarterback in 2014 when the Cardinals drafted him. By the time he arrived in Washington in 2020, he had three seasons of learning the position on his resume, though none as a full-time starter. Once he got the extra reps that season, he said he finally felt comfortable at the position.

“Probably Week 3, Week 4,” Thomas said. “I really knew what I could do. I was understanding my offense and how I fit into my offense.

Rogers said it all clicked for him during organized team activities. He was fed up for five whole months. Injuries to the Commanders’ tight ends in the offseason helped accelerate his development, and he has earned a reputation so far for his mindset and work ethic, evidenced by his speed. Gets

“I feel like a completely different person,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing harder now.”

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