Make no mistake about it, Jacquizz Rodgers wants to be a feature back in the NFL.
“Shouldn’t that be every running back’s goal? To be the guy?’’ Rodgers said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’m just going to work hard and keep trying to be that guy.’’
For now, Rodgers is content sharing time with veteran Michael Turner in the Atlanta Falcons’ backfield. After barely playing as a rookie last season, Rodgers carved out a niche that got bigger as the season went on.
Rodgers carried 94 times for 362 yards during the regular season and also caught 53 passes for 402 yards. Those numbers are solid, though not spectacular. But Rodgers believes there was a break-through moment in a Nov. 4 win against Dallas.
With the Falcons clinging to a 16-13 fourth-quarter lead and facing a third-and-6 at their own 24, Rodgers caught a pass in the flat and faked out several defenders on the way to a 31-yard gain. A few plays later, the Falcons faced a third-and-5 at the Dallas 33. That’s when Rodgers caught another short pass and took it for an 11-yard gain to set up a field goal.
“On those two plays, I think I earned the trust of the coaching staff by showing them I could pick up first downs in crunch time,’’ Rodgers said. “After that, I felt like they trusted me more, and I also felt like I gained confidence in myself and became a better player.’’
Rodgers said he and Turner have a comfortable coexistence.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,’’ Rodgers said. “Mike’s not the kind of guy that talks a lot. But I just sit back and watch him -- watch the way he prepares and how professional he is, and that’s helped me a lot.’’
But the reality is that, while Turner is the feature back for now, the Falcons could be looking for a new one as soon as next season. Turner has shown some signs of aging, and he’s carrying a high salary-cap figure.
When Rodgers was coming out in the draft, a lot of people questioned his size (5-foot-6 and 195 pounds). Skeptics said he never would be able to run between the tackles. But coach Mike Smith repeatedly has said Rodgers has enough muscle to run up the middle.
“Go back and look, most of my carries this year were between the tackles,’’ Rodgers said. “I think I’m a guy that can be physical while also using some finesse. I know I can run between the tackles.’’
Rodgers probably will get a few shots to do that in Sunday’s playoff game with Seattle. If he can produce some positive results, it could be one more step in his audition to be the feature back next season.