Hogan: Rogers returns at the perfect time

Every once in a while, a team gets a positive jolt of electricity, an infusion of positive energy that can help that group take its play to the next level. The Toronto Argonauts will get that boost when receiver Eric Rogers suits up in the Eastern Final at BMO Field on Dec. 5.

Rogers was leading the team with three touchdown catches when he injured his hamstring. It’s led to a frustrating two months for the Glendora, CA native.

“I’m a guy that’s hard-headed as far as injuries go,” Rogers confessed to Argonauts.ca. “It has to happen to me twice before I say, ‘OK, I need to shut it down.’ Before the Montreal game (Sept. 24) I tweaked it at a practice.

“We had a bye week after, so I thought I’d be fine after the bye week. It was a really small tweak but then I came back and practised, made it through a day but then the second day I tweaked it again in the same spot, so I had to go on the six game (injured list) then.”

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After an extended absence, Eric Rogers is ready to make some big contributions for the Argos in Sunday’s Eastern Final against Hamilton (Peter Power/CFL.ca)

The timing stunk. Rogers was coming off his best game of the season, a 97-yard performance in Saskatchewan and he appeared to be returning to the form that made the Argos so excited to have him join the Double Blue.

Rogers arrived in Toronto in early 2021. He was acquired in a pre-free agency deal with Calgary that saw him traded to the 6ix along with fellow pending free agents Cordarro Law and Robertson Daniel. The receiver signed two days later.

With a talented receiving room, a team that was starting to hit its stride and Rogers rounding into form, all was looking good at the time of the injury. But it wasn’t the football side of things that was the toughest part of being out of the lineup for the Californian; it was something bigger than that.

“The hardest part was being away from the family,” he explained. “There’s a reason why you’re away and that’s to play football. Your family at home has things to look forward to when you’re playing the games. They get to watch you play. When you’re not playing, they wonder, ‘Why are you away from me?’”

The 30-year old was able to return home a couple of times during his time off to visit his wife, his seven and three-year-old daughters, and his 16 and 10-year-old nieces of whom he has custody; trips that helped him get through such a tough point in his career.

The return of Rogers to the lineup has also done wonders to the mental health of his teammates, particularly the man responsible for getting him the football.

McLeod Bethel-Thompson is elated he’ll get a chance to reconnect with such a talented target.

“He provides so many things for this team, both the expected and unexpected,” the quarterback told Argonauts.ca.

“Obviously the route running, the experience, the unbelievable catch radius, but also a level of physicality from the receiver group. They’ve all stepped their game up and are living up to his standard in that realm, but to have him back, he’s the standard-bearer. It’s unbelievably exciting and I can’t wait.”

Rogers provides the all-star QB with an elite target, particularly in the red zone. But again, it’s an underappreciated aspect of the receiver’s six-foot-three, 215-pound game that has the quarterback equally excited and that’s his elite blocking ability.

“God forbid we have some o-linemen go down, he might be my first pick for left tackle,” he said with a laugh. “He’s awesome. He takes on linebackers willingly and he does it at a high level. Early in the season in Calgary he made one of the best blocks I’ve seen since I’ve been up here. He’s a complete player and he loves to play the game of football and that’s contagious. He’s an absolute pleasure to be around.”

There hasn’t been a ton of time during the season for Bethel-Thompson and Rogers to develop chemistry. Most of what they have was achieved in training camp as MBT started just two games before being replaced by Nick Arbuckle. Bethel-Thompson took over as QB1 just as Rogers was injured.

That doesn’t mean the two haven’t been working together.

“I haven’t played too many games with him,” said Rogers. “But I’ve been talking to him on the side during the games. He’ll come over and ask ‘What do you see here? What would you have done here?’ We’ve tried to develop chemistry even though we haven’t gotten live game reps.”

Big games don’t phase Rogers; he’s always performed well in the post-season. His last appearance in a Divisional Final came in 2018, a game against Winnipeg in which he caught three touchdown passes.

His return to the lineup comes at the perfect time and will give the Hamilton Tiger-Cats something to think about when the Argos host the Eastern Final on Sunday.

Tickets are available here.

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