STILLWATER — James Castleman's surprising surge up the Oklahoma State depth chart during fall camp last year naturally had to bump another player out of a starting job.
That was Anthony Rogers, a regular first-teamer during the Big 12 championship season of 2011 who was reduced to a backup role last season.
Castleman impacted Rogers this past spring, too — but in a very different way. With Castleman out for the full slate of workouts following foot surgery, that gave Rogers the chance to take the first-team reps again.
And gave coaches the impression that he could be a breakout player in his final season as a Cowboy.
“Here's your guy that nobody ever talks about that is ready to make a move and ready to finish this thing out right — it's Anthony Rogers,” Cowboy defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said earlier this summer. “And that's huge for us.
“We really needed for another guy to step up. Anthony Rogers, he's not a talker, he's not a ‘me' guy, he doesn't need a lot of attention, but he practiced his butt off every day in the spring.”
Cowboy coach Mike Gundy has repeatedly said this season's defensive tackle group is the best he's had since becoming the head coach at OSU. And he's not just talking about Castleman and preseason All-Big 12 selection Calvin Barnett. The coach often mentions Rogers — or “Tizzle,” as he likes to say — as a senior who needs to assume a leadership role in 2013.
Rogers chuckles when reminding reporters he's been in Stillwater for a long time, playing in 32 career games and recording 36 tackles (7.5 for loss), two sacks, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. But he took being passed over by Castleman last season as a driving force to fine tune his game during the offseason.
“At the time, he deserved the position,” Rogers said of Castleman. “I used it as motivation to fix what I was doing wrong and come back stronger the next upcoming year.
“When I need to go right, take the right step. It seems like common sense, but when you get out there on the field, the left foot always wants to move when you're going right. I just made an effort to take the right steps, separate and shed blocks.”
Rogers also mentioned consistent effort as “something you can't maximize enough” and an area he can always progress. Additionally, Spencer pointed to endurance as a physical quality Rogers struggled with early in his career but has greatly improved.
“Not that he could go out there and run a marathon right now,” Spencer said. “… but he has gotten himself to where he can make really good plays for us and he can help us win games. I was very proud of that.”
Now Castleman is back — but with a screw in his foot and rust still to kick off. The Cowboys, of course, are counting on him to return to form by the season opener against Mississippi State.
But they're counting on Rogers, too.
“He makes a conscious effort to improve on his mistakes,” defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements said. “He likes to study film. He likes to ask questions. He's just a good guy to work with right now, and he's a good football player.
“I think he has a chance to have an excellent senior season, and we need him to do that.”