FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- This could be Jacquizz Rodgers' week to be more than a complement to Michael Turner in the Atlanta Falcons' running game.
Rodgers has seen a steady increase in carries and has been the team's leading rusher in two of the last four games. Still, he has remained the clear backup to Turner, who has had more carries than Rodgers in each of Atlanta's 12 games.
That could change Sunday at Carolina.Turner was limited in practice on Thursday
for the second straight day with a left elbow injury. He had a wrap on the elbow, which he hurt reaching for a burrito.
Coach Mike Smith said he expects Turner will play against the Panthers. Smith said Rodgers has proved he can be the lead back if needed.
''Absolutely,'' Smith said after Thursday's practice. ''Jacquizz is one of many guys we feel like deserves to get touches on our offense. If need be, we think he can take carries that other guys may get in other games.''
Rodgers has a combined 18 carries for 82 yards the last two games - his top totals for back-to-back weeks this season.
''You get a feel for the game when you touch the ball more,'' Rodgers said. ''Things come to you more easily when you have a better feel for the game.''
This week's possible opportunity for Rodgers comes as Turner's production has dipped. Turner averaged 4.0 yards per carry in the Falcons' first eight games and only 3.0 in the last four games. He was held to 15 yards on 13 carries at New Orleans on Nov. 11 and 17 yards on 13 carries at Tampa Bay on Nov. 25.
At 5-foot-6 and 188 pounds, Rodgers can disappear behind offensive linemen, and he is quick and elusive in open field.
Rodgers made his first impact as a rookie last season with his receiving skills. That role has expanded this season, as he ranks fourth on the team with 37 catches for 284 yards and a touchdown.
He has 274 yards rushing with a touchdown and slowly has proved he can be more than a back who plays on passing situations.
''He's been huge for us,'' said tight end Tony Gonzalez. ''I was just talking about that in the meeting room, how big he's been for us this year. With his quickness, his ability to make people miss, he's coming up with plays in the game in our four-minute offense to close out the clock. He's been great.''
Rodgers has never had more than 10 carries in a game. He reached that total for only the third time in his career when he rushed for 49 yards with a touchdown against Tampa Bay. He added 43 yards rushing against the Saints on Nov. 29.
The Falcons have found more ways to get the ball to Rodgers in space, where he can take advantage of his elusiveness. He has had long runs of 43, 20, 18 and 14 yards and is averaging 4.0 yards per carry.
''I'm just making plays when I'm in there so my number can be called more often,'' Rodgers said. ''That's the main thing, taking advantages of my small opportunities that I do have when I get the ball.''
Rodgers said he's preparing for a possible bigger role this week, but he said that is his mindset every week.
''All the running backs, we practice to be ready,'' he said. ''We all practice different situations, preparing just in case we're in that position at any point.''
Receiver Roddy White said Rodgers could produce more big plays if he had more carries.
''He's hard to tackle in space,'' White said. ''I have hardly seen anybody tackle him in space. That's one of the attributes he brings to the team, in one-on-one matchups he doesn't get tackled.
''It's good to have a guy like that you can put out there that's a matchup problem for the defense. He's also good at screens and stuff. The more opportunities we can put the ball in his hands, it will be good.''
NOTES: Asked about Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy's statement that the Panthers are a better team than the Falcons, despite Carolina's 30-28 loss in Atlanta on Sept. 30, White said ''They've got to say something. They're fighting, they're holding on. They're in a different position than we are. They're trying to save the rest of their season and we're trying to prepare ourselves for this playoff run.'' ... Cornerback Asante Samuel (right shoulder) and safety William Moore (hamstring) were held out of practice for the second straight day. Smith said he will ''definitely be very cautious'' with Samuel,
who lasted only three plays against the Saints after first hurting the shoulder against Arizona on Nov. 18. ... Defensive tackle Peria Jerry (thigh) practiced on a limited basis.http://sports.yahoo.com/news/rb-jacquiz ... --nfl.html
For most fantasy owners, this is the last week of the regular season. If you've already clinched a playoff spot, well, then, congratulations. If you're fighting for one of the final postseason berths in your league, good luck. But if you're relegated to the role of spoiler, it's never too early to look ahead to 2013.
It's fun to consider who might comprise the first round, but you don't need me to sit here and tell you eight months in advance that mainstays Arian Foster, Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice and Aaron Rodgers will be in the mix, joined by new faces such as Robert Griffin III, C.J. Spiller and A.J. Green. Instead, let's take an early look at the guys you'll be selecting in the middle and late rounds of drafts next year or throwing a few bucks at around an auction table who will unexpectedly (at least to your league mates) drive you to a title. Put another way, who can be next year's Alfred Morris in the same way Morris was this year's Victor Cruz?
Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons -- The Rodgers takeover in Atlanta has seemingly already started. However, it should be in full force next year, whether or not Michael Turner is still in town. It's clear that Turner's days as a workhorse back have passed. While the Falcons will likely want a complementary back to limit the damage absorbed by his smallish frame, Rodgers should be in a feature role next season. We've seen flashes of what he can do when given enough touches to make an impact this season. Despite touching the ball 95 times thus far, he has 519 total yards and two touchdowns. With Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White, Atlanta should have a dynamic offense again next year. Rodgers will be the beneficiary, especially because of his ability as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Read More: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/w ... z2EN5nBMBN