It didn't matter that Charles I Rogers, the second pick in the 2003 draft, dropped the first pass thrown to him during the Detroit Lions' 42-24 victory over the visiting Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Nor did it matter that he wasn't even the game's most productive rookie wideout. (That was Cardinals second-rounder Anquan Boldin: 10 catches, 217 yards, two touchdowns.) What did matter were Rogers's two gravity-defying, first-half touchdown catches, which raised the bar even higher for a guy from whom much was already expected.
"Yeah, there are a lot of expectations on me," says Rogers, a consensus All-America out of Michigan State. "I'm a hometown kid, high draft pick, big contract. So people expect a lot. But they should, right?"
The answer, of course, is yes, but for the Lions the more pertinent concern is whether all the hoopla surrounding Rogers is healthy. "The hype's not a good thing," says Lions second-year quarterback Joey Harrington. "In no way am I saying that Charles is any less of a player, but it isn't fair to him. I went through it, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone." Harrington nearly buckled under such burdens last year, when he became a starter in Week 3 and proceeded to throw 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions while completing just 50.1% of his passes.
Then again, he wasn't throwing to anyone like Rogers. "He's big and incredibly fast—he's outrun my arm a couple of times," Harrington says. "I'll throw it and think I've got him beat. Then he drops into another gear, and it's, God, I should've thrown that a lot farther."
By the second quarter of Sunday's opener, the Cardinals were already doubling the 6'3", 202-pound Rogers, who finished with four receptions for 38 yards. "They were shading toward him. Even if he's not catching the ball, he draws coverage," said Harrington, who completed 17 of 30 passes for 195 yards and four scores. Said Lions coach Steve Mariucci, "I'd double him, too, if he scored a couple of touchdowns."
Lions coaches and teammates are most surprised by Rogers's retention of the West Coast offensive sets, which were heaped upon him during rookie minicamp in early May. "He came back to training camp [in late July] and hadn't lost a bit," Mariucci says. By the end of camp Rogers had become Detroit's featured wideout. "We're utilizing him like we used Terrell Owens in San Francisco," says Mariucci. "We're going to move him to the left side, the right side, inside, outside and everywhere in between. And for a young guy to be able to do that-well, it's impressive."
After a Sept. 3 practice Rogers stayed for extra drills with fellow wide-out Shawn Jefferson. The two worked for 20 minutes on one of Rogers's few weaknesses—getting his lanky frame into and out of the breaks in his patterns. "Charlie wants to work. He's willing to do what it takes. How can you not love that?" asks Jefferson, a 13-year veteran. "He's still a rookie. And I still approach him like he doesn't know a damn thing. But—and I hate to say it—he's gonna be a great one."