FLOWERY BRANCH — When Jacquizz Rodgers started playing football, he struck fear in the hearts of quarterbacks.
“I was a defensive end in Pop Warner,” Rodgers said. “In Pop Warner, it was 10-man rush.”
But did he get after the quarterback?
“Always, always,” Rodgers said. “But later, I was mainly a running back.”
Playing with the Lamar Hornets, he was on the same team with his older brother James, the team’s tight end.
“He was actually playing defensive end and that was kind of weird,” James said. “I guess the positions that we were in at that time was something that is pretty memorable. Quizz is definitely not a defensive end.”
The two brothers, born just under 14 months apart and now stand 5-foot-6 (Jacquizz) and 5-7 (James), would go on to play together for the Lamar Consolidated High School Mustangs in Richmond, Texas, and then at Oregon State. Now, they are both in training camp and trying to make it with the Falcons.
Jacquizz, a running back, was drafted last season and James, a wide receiver, was signed as a free agent.
They hope to join such other brother duos like Boss and Champ Bailey, the former University of Georgia standouts who played together with the Denver Broncos in 2008.
They were raised by the mother, Tasha Williams, and their uncle Rodney Williams played a pivotal role in their upbringing. Their father, James Rodgers, went to jail when they were in the seventh and eighth grade. He was released in June.
“He helped us out a lot, leading us down the right path,” James said of his uncle. “He had us doing a lot of things to stay focused on sports and not getting into anything outside of that.”
Without their father around, the bond between the brothers grew stronger.
“That’s a part of us growing up a little faster and looking out for each other,” James said. “He was released last month, or little over a month ago. Some time in June.”
They are in contact with their father, who lives in the Houston area.
With the Falcons, the roles for the Rodgers brothers have been reversed. Normally, as the older sibling, James would show Jacquizz the ropes. But, with a NFL year under his belt, Jacquizz is playing the adviser role for James.
“I can give him a little advice about how things work around here,” Jacquizz said. “We talk mainly, about being a professional and how things work. I have to let him know what the coaches expect from you on this level and things like that. It’s different than college.”
In college, James arrived at Oregon State first in 2007. He would go on to set several career receiving and total-yardage records. Jacquizz followed him the next season and went on to set several marks of his own.
Jacquizz elected to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the draft after the 2011 season.
Last season, Jacquizz didn’t receive his playbook until the lockout was over and he could report to camp. He went on to have a solid rookie season.
He rushed 57 times for 205 yards and a touchdown and caught 21 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown.
With a full offseason of organized team activities and a minicamp, Rodgers said this training camp has a different feel to it.
“I can anticipate everything,” he said. “Last year was just a blur. You never knew when you were going to be back in football. I always stayed ready. I just had to stay in shape and be prepared for the season.”
The Falcons’ coaching staff hopes that with a year under his belt, Rodgers — with running back Jason Snelling — can help lift some of the rushing load off Michael Turner’s broad shoulders.
“Everybody has to find their identity on the team and their role,” Rodgers said. “That’s what I’m aiming to do, is find a role on the team and just go with that role; if it’s getting two carries or if it’s getting 10. I want to take advantage of it.”
James, who set a school record with 222 career receptions, including 91 in 2009, has been a quick learner.
“He was just telling me how fast-paced everything was and how you got to get up to speed and go out there and compete with everyone,” James said.
At Oregon State, James set the school mark with 6,377 all-purpose yards and was the first player in OSU history with 1,000 yards rushing and 2,000 yards receiving. He was one of the nation’s top return men, averaging 24.7 yards per kickoff return and 13.7 on punt returns over his career.
With Eric Weems now playing for the Chicago Bears, the Falcons have an opening at kickoff and punt returner.
“I think the main thing, especially for a guy my size, is being able to play on special teams,” James said. “I just want to make the best of any opportunity that I get on special teams and show everyone what I have.”
Instead of playing defensive end and tight end, maybe the Rodgers brothers can help the Falcons at running back and wide receiver.
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–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog