FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — 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 rushing 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 in the Falcons' win over New Orleans on Nov. 29.
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 shifty in open field.