FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Only two NFL running backs have more touchdowns than Atlanta’s Antone Smith.
The mystery is why Smith hasn’t had more chances to add to his total.
Among Falcons running backs, Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman have more carries than Smith this season.
Smith has delivered four big-play scores on his rare touches — from 38, 48, 54 and 74 yards. Two touchdowns came after short catches.
The only NFL running backs with more touchdowns are Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray, who have combined for more than 200 touches. Smith’s touchdowns have come on only 17 carries and catches.
It appears there will be more opportunities for Smith against the Chicago Bears on Sunday.
“You get what you earn in this league,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith. “And what he’s done through these first five games and a couple of games last year when he had the opportunity to touch the football, he’s earned more opportunities to touch it, there’s no doubt about that.
“He’s been a very explosive player for us. The numbers are what they are. We want to make sure that we get the ball in playmakers’ hands.”
Smith, 29, is far from an overnight success. He finished his college career at Florida State in 2008 and, after not being drafted, had short stints with the Lions, Vikings and Texans before joining the Falcons’ practice squad in 2009. His speed served him well on special teams work before given a chance to show his big-play potential as a running back late last season.
Smith had only five carries in 2013, but that was enough to produce 50- and 38-yard touchdown runs. He has 11 carries for 121 yards and six receptions for 156 yards this season.
Falcons receiver Roddy White said Smith’s big plays are no surprise for anyone who has seen his speed.
“He’s very explosive,” White said Thursday. “If we can get the ball in his hands and it’s one-on-one, nine times out of 10 he’s going to out-run the guy that’s trying to tackle him.
“We watch him every day and we know how fast he is and he knows the opportunity is out there for him to make big plays. We’re going to try to get him matched up one-on-one as much as possible in the game and try to give him the ball.”
After waiting so long for his first chances to touch the ball last season, Smith has remained patient for his playing time to increase.
“My job is just to be a great teammate and go out and do my job,” he said. “That’s all I try to do. I don’t try to control what’s going on upstairs or who makes the decisions when I’m in there or when I’m not. I just try to go out there and when my number is called make the play to the best of my ability.”
Smith had three catches for 83 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown, in last week’s 30-20 loss at the Giants.
Smith (5-9, 192) bristled at the suggestion he struggles in pass-blocking and so could never be more than a specialty back.
“I have no problem with that,” he said. “That’s one of the things they said I had to work on. With any running back, you’ve got something to work on. Running the ball is easy. Catching the ball is easy. But pass protection, when you’ve got a quarterback like Matt, you’ve got to be able to protect him.”