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RB Jacquizz Rodgers could take lead for Falcons

RB Jacquizz Rodgers could take lead for Falcons

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 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 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.

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10 changes that would make the NHL better

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USA TODAY Sports

10 changes that would make the NHL better

Hockey is one of the most incredible, compelling sports in the world. As fun as it is to watch on TV, it is even more compelling in person and fans in North America are treated to the best hockey in the world as played in the NHL.

But the NHL's not perfect.

SEE THE 10 CHANGES THAT WOULD MAKE THE NHL BETTER HERE

Just like every sports league, the NHL is always adjusting and making changes to the game in order to improve it through things like rule changes, expansion, playoff formats, etc.

No sport is perfect and hockey is not without its flaws, but there are a number of clear changes that could be made that would improve both the game and the league.

 SEE THE 10 CHANGES THAT WOULD MAKE THE NHL BETTER HERE

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Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

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Associated Press

Need to Know: Redskins training camp preview—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, July 23, three days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Training camp preview—defense 

Here are some of the big topics surrounding the defense at Redskins training camp along with some of the things I’ll be observing closely when training camp gets underway on Thursday. I looked at the topics on offense yesterday

Lining up the line

Will Phil Taylor, who seems to be a long shot to make the team after they drafted two nose tackles, get some run with the first and second teams? Also, this is a young group and Jim Tomsula will have a lot of opportunities to teach. Watching him interacting with his line and going over the details of line play is fun to watch.

Spaight vs. Vigil

The two starting inside linebacker starters are safe and the team is intrigued enough by the potential of both Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaun Dion Hamilton to make them likely bets to make the 53-man roster. That leaves Zach Vigil and Martrell Spaight competing for the last ILB roster spot. 

Spaight is a known quantity who has been a mainstay on special teams since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2015. They kept him over Vigil in the cut to 53 a year ago. But last year when injuries hit, Vigil started over Spaight. In a way, this is Round 3 between the two. 

Ryan Anderson

We know what outside linebacker starters Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith can do. Pernell McPhee will be good for four or five sacks and perhaps a forced fumble or two. Anderson, who was team’s second-round pick last year, is a big question mark. He played 193 snaps in 14 games, but he barely dented the stat sheet with no sacks and just 11 tackles. Anderson is a hard worker and they need his 

The pieces of the cornerback puzzle

This is discussed in some detail hereby JP Finlay and I’ll look at it later this week. To pick out one detail, I want to see what the rotation in the slot is. Right now the guess is that Orlando Scandrick is the starter but who will be behind him? That’s important because Scandrick has missed 25 games in the last three seasons due to injuries. 

Apke’s progress

Fourth-round safety Troy Apke displayed impressive makeup speed during offseason practices and that let him make some plays on the ball. But he needed that speed too often as he had issues in coverage. You need to be more than just fast to play in the NFL. If Apke is going to be an alternative if injury problems strike Montae Nicholson again he needs to start making some progress while he is in Richmond. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 3
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 17
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 40

The Redskins last played a game 204 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 48 days. 

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