TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jacquizz Rodgers never doubted he was capable of playing a lead role in an NFL offense.
Even when the diminutive running back found himself out of work and wondering if he’d get another opportunity to prove himself seven weeks ago.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers called on Sept. 13, two days after their season opener, and the sixth-year pro is making the most of a reunion with coach Dirk Koetter.
Thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries to two-time Pro Bowl selection Doug Martin and versatile backup Charles Sims, Rodgers has responded with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances that have keyed a two-game winning streak that’s got the Bucs (3-3) back to .500 after a 1-3 start.
Tampa Bay rushed for 249 yards, the fourth-most in franchise history, during Sunday’s 34-17 victory over San Francisco.
Two weeks after carrying 30 times for a then career-best 101 yards at Carolina, the 5-foot-6, 215-pound blend of power and quickness gained 154 yards on 26 attempts to help the Bucs rally from an early 14-0 deficit against the 49ers.
“Jacquizz is just a really solid player and a really solid guy,” said Koetter, Atlanta’s offensive coordinator for three of the four seasons Rodgers played with the Falcons before signing with the Chicago Bears in 2015.
“He’s never had a chance to be a feature guy. He’s just behind really good guys,” Koetter said. “He’s been behind Michael Turner for a while (and) behind Steven Jackson (in Atlanta). We have good backs here, so he’s … just getting a chance.”
Martin, second in the NFL in rushing last season behind Adrian Peterson, has been sidelined since Week 2 with a sore hamstring. Sims was placed on injured reserve after hurting a knee two weeks ago.
Rodgers was a fifth-round draft pick in 2011 and started five of 63 games he appeared in over four seasons with Atlanta. He played five games with the Bears, carrying the ball 14 times for 41 yards, before being placed on injured reserve with a broken arm last season.
“He’s durable, he’s nifty, he can break tackles,” Koetter said.
“The good thing, I am familiar with the offense,” Rodgers, released by the Bears on Sept. 3, added, “so it helped make my transition a lot easier.”
Before making his first start for the Bucs, Rodgers had never carried more than 18 times in a NFL game. Koetter noted, though, that he was a featured back in college at Oregon State and was productive as a backup during their time together with the Falcons.
“I didn’t know the guy was as good as he is, as explosive as he is,” offensive tackle Demar Dotson said.
“He’s a baller and we were very fortunate to get him,” receiver Mike Evans said.
Rodgers became the first back in the NFL with consecutive games with at least 25 carries since DeMarco Murray did it three straight games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2014.
Martin was the last to do it for the Bucs, carrying 29 times against Minnesota and 25 against Oakland the following game as a rookie in 2012.
“Our O-line has been playing great, and the receivers have been doing great as well with downfield blocking. We’re just playing complementary football,” Evans said. “He’s similar to Doug in many ways. They’re both smaller, bigger backs that can break you down. He’s been doing that.”