As last season went on, rookie running back Jacquizz Rodgers' comfort within Atlanta's offense clearly grew.
While he never had a 100-yard rushing game (the most he rushed for was 44 yards), he began to play a more effective role as a pass catcher in the offense. Week 14's touchdown reception was a defining moment for Rodgers, making the catch on a great route ran out of the backfield.
Rodgers added a rushing touchdown in the final game of the season and he enters this year's offseason with ideas of getting better. The full offseason schedule has allowed the running back to slow things down even more, unlike last year when he had to jump right into things since the lockout cancelled the offseason activities.
"(I'm) enjoying it, but still working hard," Rodgers said. "It's my second year here, I'm more comfortable so things are not coming to me at a fast pace. I can slow down and learn more about the game."
Michael Turner thinks the offseason will be huge for Rodgers, especially since everyone is learning a new offense.
"He got basically thrown into the fire right away," Turner said on Wednesday. "I think this will slow things down for him a little bit. He'll slowly get the groove of things. He'll be ready to go this year."
An in-the-groove Rodgers could be a valuable weapon for the Falcons. The fifth-round draft pick has been generating some buzz this offseason as a player to look out for in Atlanta's new offense under coordinator Dirk Koetter. Some envision Rodgers as a Maurice Jones-Drew clone, a player Koetter coached in Jacksonville.
Jones-Drew and Rodgers are similarly sized and are both versatile running backs. The unknown for Rodgers at this time is just how well he can carry the load as a running back taking hand-offs and running through the offensive line. Built solidly, early indiciations are that he's capable of taking a beating. Koetter's history with Jones-Drew is a positive in Rodgers' eyes, even though things are different in Atlanta than Jacksonville.
"From his background, that's a good thing," Rodgers said. "But it's a different offense here. So (Koetter) can come in and work with the running backs he's got and just build from there."
The screen game on offense has been a hot topic of late. Many of the players talked about its role in the offense on Wednesday. Rodgers is the type of player that could directly benefit and then impact Atlanta's offense with a larger screen game in the arsenal. He caught 43 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns out of the backfield during his final season at Oregon State. He anticipates a role in that phase of the offense this season.
"Right now, everybody is getting a shot at it, to run the screen," he said. "I'm looking forward to being a part of that. Coach Dirk is a big man who is huge on running the screens, so we have a lot of screens in store."