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Gameday Story: Student of the Game

Posted by Taylor Price on October 8, 2012 – 10:49 AM

Carlos Rogers has been a reliable cornerback on the field for the San Francisco 49ers. Behind closed doors, Rogers has also been instrumental in teaching his veteran wisdom to the team’s young defensive backs. All of it has translated to team-wide success.

Rogers’ detailed note-taking and film study habits have trickled down through the locker room in a positive way. Not only is Rogers continuing his Pro Bowl play of 2011 into his second season in the Bay Area, but he’s setting the bar high for his teammates with a lead-by-example approach.

Rogers recorded three tackles in the 49ers recent 45-3 win over the Buffalo Bills. Get to know more about the mental approach to the game that Rogers has mastered over the course of his career in our latest  Gameday Magazine cover story.

The “Student of the Game” shoot was photographed by team photographer Terrell Lloyd and designed by team graphic designer Ben Mayberry.

The pen behind Rogers’ ear… that was all Carlos.

Talk understanding details.

STUDENT of the GAME.

Carlos Rogers’ study habits net big returns on Sundays.

[By Taylor Price, 49ers.com]

It’s no coincidence Carlos Rogers is ahead of the curve when it comes to performing at a peak level in the National Football League. The eighth-year cornerback works hard at his craft. In his 20 regular season games with the San Francisco 49ers, the Pro Bowl cornerback has recorded nine takeaways for the team, including six interceptions and three fumble recoveries, two of which recently happened in a Week 4, 34-0 throttling of the New York Jets. Rogers scooped up two fumbles on the day, returning the second loose ball 51 yards for the team’s first defensive touchdown of the year.

Rogers has been in position to make big plays throughout the course of his 49ers career and credits his play-making ability to a number of behind-the-scenes efforts. Whether it’s squatting heavy weights, taking meticulous notes on every wide receiver he faces, or collaborating with defensive coaches and young defensive backs, Rogers does all the little things necessary to come up big on gameday.

Take Sunday’s win in New York as a perfect example. Facing a Jets team that featured a two-quarterback system, Rogers and his defensive teammates entered the game thoroughly prepared for both Mark Sanchez and Wildcat-running quarterback Tim Tebow. In fact, Tebow’s only pass attempt, a 9-yard gain, resulted in a forced fumble when safety Dashon Goldson placed a vicious hit on Jets tight end Dedrick Epps. Rogers picked up the fumble immediately and later credited defensive coordinator Vic Fangio for having the stingy 49ers defense prepared for the play.

“Coach Vic is a very good coach,” Rogers said after the team’s first road shutout win since 2002. “Very, very, good coach. Some of the calls he put us in seemed like he knew what their offensive coordinator was doing. He gave us great calls and all we had to do was execute them – that’s what we did pretty much throughout the game…We were prepared for (Tebow) going out there, faking the run that he did. Dashon came in and made a big hit – we prepared for all the things that they do… It’s about preparing during the week and when we get out there, execute.”

Executing isn’t so much a challenge when you’re prepared for the test like Rogers is on a consistent basis. Jim Harbaugh often raves about his best players being his hardest workers and when it comes to the defensive back room, Rogers is one of the leaders in that regard. The 49ers coach said Rogers’ approach to the game has been “very good, consistently good.” Harbaugh added, “His approach to how he goes about his business, how he takes care of his business, both on and off the field. A lot of the times, you say, ‘a guy’s been consistent,’ but he’s been consistently good.”

Rogers has also been consistently one of the best defensive backs throughout his college and professional career. It all dates back to the study habits he formed at Auburn University under the guidance of Gene Chizik. The program’s current head coach served as Auburn’s defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach from 2002-04, when Rogers starred as a first-team All-American who eventually ended up as the Washington Redskins No. 9 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. “Watching Coach Chizik and how he prepared the team each and every week, it kind of gave me an idea about studying,” says Rogers while sitting back comfortably in a Ohio hotel lobby in between back-to-back East Coast games. “I knew what I needed to do in college to perform and be one of the top DBs in the college level.”

Rogers played six seasons in our nation’s capitol and developed even greater preparation habits while playing beside veteran cornerbacks like Shawn Springs and Walt Harris. “They knew how to study, knew how to practice, knew how to prepare every week,” details Rogers. “Watching those guys, I got better every week. I came in trying to learn everything, trying to make sure I knew all the routes. They broke it down for me, how to study, how to write down what you needed to know.”

Rogers learned right away that he couldn’t play the whole field. He needed to focus on the concepts being run on the left side of the field, the half of the field where he primarily lined up. From there, it went to note-taking. Rogers took detailed notes on teams, tendencies of the coaching staffs he would face, physical traits of the opposition and route concepts being run in multi-receiver sets. After that, the preparation headed to film study where Rogers tracked the action on his side of the field, the dominant side for right-handed passing quarterbacks.

“It’s a lot of studying going into what concepts other teams use,  the tight end when he’s releasing, what kind of concepts they use off that,” says Rogers, who was quick to point out that he’s been handling double-study duties with the 49ers, playing left cornerback and nickel cornerback against multi-receiver sets. “I go from left side to the nickel, there’s a lot more studying. With the nickel, most of the time the receivers have two ways they can go. It changes the leverage that I can play. Every week, you can’t think you’ve got it all. Every week presents a different challenge and every week, I study more and more.”

Secondary coach Ed Donatell, a veteran of the NFL coaching ranks for 21 seasons, considers Rogers to be one of the top guys he’s been around. “He’s a professional, he comes in ready to work every week,” says Donatell. “He’s very detailed and very valuable to the guys around him.”

Furthermore, Donatell says Rogers uses the same preparation habits at both his defensive back roles. “He knows it helps our team and he understands the whole concept of what’s going on out there,” adds Donatell. “The inside position, there’s a big part of it that’s mental, you need to have a clear understanding and he has that.”

Understanding is one thing, going out and executing week in and week out is a whole different ballgame. Fortunately for the 49ers, Rogers has been able to produce during his 20 regular season games in San Francisco. In his first season alone, Rogers was named as a starter in his first Pro Bowl, thanks to his career-high six interceptions, which tied for second-most in the NFL. Rogers added 57 tackles, too. For his efforts, the veteran defensive back was named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. The 49ers turned around and rewarded Rogers this offseason with a four-year contract extension, to which he’s backed up with a strong start to the 2012 campaign (14 tackles, three fumble recoveries, 1.0 sack and one pass breakup).

So while you see Rogers making game-changing plays on a weekly basis for the 49ers defense, it’s the six days of prep work preceding Sunday’s action that makes it all happen. Did Rogers’ six-interception season in 2011 result from long hours in the classroom?  “Oh yeah, no doubt,” he says with a grin. “Any time you’re playing, a lot of picks can come in zone. When you get a read on a cornerback you don’t have to key exactly on one man…When you’re playing tight man-to-man, especially tight coverage, if you get a pick off that, you exactly read the route. You anticipate it. The quarterback thought he’d be open. A lot of my picks came off knowing what’s going on. I got one on Eli (Manning), with that, (Mario) Manningham just stopped running his route, I dove down and got the ball…It’s about knowing what the receiver is going to do before he even does it. Knowing their formations and knowing if you have a blitz on, you may get the hot route to you. All my study is about that and whenever the ball comes, it’s about catching it at that point.”

Leading by example is something Rogers takes extreme pride in, too. With second-year cornerback Chris Culliver serving as his backup on the left side, Rogers has been able to mentor the young defensive back throughout every week, from walk-throughs to meetings, to everywhere in between.

Culliver appreciates the help on how to read coverages, when to look at the second receiver on his side and understand possible route combinations. “That helps me out a lot,” says Culliver. “He’s definitely always on-point with a lot of things. He’s real detailed in his note-taking, I learn a lot from that… ‘Los overall, he’s helped me out trying to be a professional corner. I just give him all the praise. He’s a good corner and he understands how to play.”

Harbaugh recognizes the veteran-newcomer relationships being formed throughout the locker room, including the secondary meeting room. “(Carlos has) been a great teammate with, I would say, Chris and others,” Harbaugh said. “We have a really good group of veteran guys. You are just aware of it, that our young guys follow their lead because it’s a great example… When your best players are your hardest workers, it’s an outstanding thing. It’s one of the best things we’ve got going for us.”

Rogers is just one of the many reasons the 49ers defense has regained its dominant form in 2012. Not only do the veterans take pride in leadership roles, but they also subscribe to Harbaugh’s “You never stay the same” approach to the game. Rogers came into the NFL with plans of developing his all-around skills and has sharpened his study habits each year to maximize results.

“It’s not about the fastest guy making the plays, it’s not about the quickest guy making the plays, a lot of guys do it up here, it’s about what’s in your head,” says Rogers. “A lot of people get wiser when they get older, they get in their playbook more.”

Rogers also gets in the weight room with high frequency. At 6-feet, 192-pounds, some might view Rogers as having skinny legs and not a great deal of strength, but not many understand how strong of a base the savvy cornerback has under him. “A lot of guys are surprised I can put up five plates on the squat machine,” says Rogers. “My legs are so skinny, but I think there’s a lot of power in my legs and the durability helps me in every game… Guys like to get in the weight room to do abs and upper body, but you’ve got to be able to run and have your base strong so you can go through the longevity of the game.”

Prepared for the rigors of a 16-game season and another potential playoff run with a 3-1 team, Rogers says he enjoys the fanfare he’s received in the Bay Area during his time with the 49ers. “It’s been nothing but support since I’ve gotten here – fans always say they’re glad I’m here. It’s all been positive stuff,” says Rogers, a native of Augusta, Ga. “The fans are so proud of this team right now, it’s not only me, there’s a lot of guys who came in new and even the older guys, their effort is all about winning. We expect to win. If we lose it’s a total disappointment. We’re in the mindset of let’s not have another one like that in the loss category.”

Sunday’s latest matchup has the Buffalo Bills entering Candlestick Park looking to end San Francisco’s seven-game, regular season home winning streak. It’s fitting Rogers is on the cover of this week’s Gameday Magazine, he’s also on this week’s game ticket.


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