FLOWERY BRANCH — Jacquizz Rodgers probably is the quietest Falcon.
“He doesn’t say anything,” offensive tackle Tyson Clabo said.
On game days, he’s one of the best dressed, too. He’s, of course, at 5-foot-6, the shortest.
But based on the way he plays the game, Rodgers, the dynamo from Richmond, Texas, is probably the toughest player on the team.
The second-year player’s progression has been steady throughout the Falcons’ climb to 11-1, and his role has expanded in recent games.
“There are a lot of things I’m impressed with by him, but I think his effort is really good,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “For a smaller guy, he’s strong, he’s physical, he’s shifty, he’s non-stop and he’s relentless.”
He played more than 50 percent of the offensive snaps in the past two games. He played 53 percent (31 of 58) of the offensive snaps against New Orleans and 52 percent (31 of 60) against Tampa Bay. Running back Michael Turner played 34 percent and 38 percent of the snaps.
Against Tampa Bay, Rodgers had 10 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. He caught two passes for 30 yards. Against the Saints, he had eight carries for 43 yards and caught two passes for minus-4 yards.“I’m playing with more confidence,” Rodgers said. “When I go out on the field, I know what I’m doing. I can just hit the field running fast.”
The Falcons wanted Rodgers to come along in his development so that they could reduce Turner’s carries. Turner led the NFL in carries in 2008 (376) and 2010 (334) and had 301 carries last season.
The Falcons envisioned a diversified attack, which Rodgers shouldering more of the load in new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s system.
Against the Saints, their plan worked to perfection. Turner barreled through the defense for gains of 35 and 5 yards. Then Rodgers came in and darted for 14 on consecutive plays. Turner was summoned to pound out the final 3 yards for a touchdown.
Even Turner, a former Pro Bowler who has churned out three of the best seasons in Falcons history, is fond of Rodgers.
“It was an adjustment in the beginning,” said Turner, who has the third, sixth and eighth best rushing single-seasons in team history. “But, I like to see him out there. He’s one of our weapons and he makes big plays for us. He gives us a little spark.”
In addition to his play from scrimmage, Rodgers also is the kickoff returner. He has averaged 27.6 yards on kickoff returns and has a long of 77 yards. Ryan likes to get Rodgers the ball in the passing attack. He has 37 catches for 284 yards and a touchdown.
“He does it in the pass game when he catches the ball,” Ryan said. “He does it when he runs the football. He does it when he pass protects. There is no letdown.”
Rodgers was slowed last season by the lockout. He was playing catch-up all season after being selected in the fifth round of the draft. But on the road against the Panthers, he served notice that he could make plays on the pro level.
He slipped out of the backfield on a pass route and scored on a 31-yard touchdown reception to help the Falcons rally from a 23-7 deficit.
“That was a great catch,” Ryan said. “It was a great play, and it was one of the bigger plays he made for us last season.”
Rodgers remembers the play fondly.
“It was a play where we basically called it on the sidelines,” he said. “We saw that the linebacker was cheating over, and we thought we could just run a wheel (route) out of the backfield, and it was successful.”
The players get to see Rodgers in practice every day, working his way through jumping to the pro level and deciphering an NFL playbook.
“I think everybody was confident in him when he first got here,” Ryan said. “I think everybody knew he was going to be a good player.”
Rodgers has won support in the locker room.
“At this point, that’s what we’ve come to expect from him,” left guard Justin Blalock said. “Every day, we see him do those sorts of things. We know that he’s a special back.”
Clabo has also been impressed.
“Just his ability to stop and start,” Clabo said. “It’s just amazing how quick he is from stop to go and then from go to stop. He’s built low to the ground, so he has a low center of gravity and is shifty. It’s really helped us in several games this year.”
Rodgers has even caused wide receiver Roddy White to invent a new word.
“He’s almost ‘un-tackleable,’ if that’s a word,” White said. “He never gets tackled in the open field or if it’s a one-on-one situation, that’s the unique thing about him. He has the ability to make people miss, get up the field and make plays for us.”
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