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For starters, Turner has Falcons feeling good about themselves


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Posted: 1 hours 55 minutes ago

For starters, Turner has Falcons feeling good about themselves

By Steve Wyche | NFL.com

Senior Writer


Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

After four years as the backup to LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner had a very impressive debut in Atlanta.

ATLANTA - After racking up 220 rushing yards -- an Atlanta Falcons' franchise record -- in his debut as a full-time NFL starter, Michael Turner refused to discuss what might have been if he had this opportunity sooner, rather than backing up San Diego Chargers All-Pro tailback LaDainian Tomlinson for four seasons.

It's not his style to look, think -- or run -- in reverse.

"That game (against Detroit) proved what I thought of myself all along," Turner said. "I can be a productive player and have a huge game. Hopefully, I can have more."

Turner said he didn't and doesn't have to prove anything to himself or anyone.

Michael Turner, RB

Atlanta Falcons

Career Statistics:

Attemps: 250

Yards: 1,477

Avg/Carry: 5.9

Touchdowns: 8

But he did, and he does.

Atlanta bypassed drafting a potential franchise tailback, such as Darren McFadden, and instead signed Turner to a $34.5 million free-agent contract in March. Though he didn't have much wear and tear since he played sparingly with San Diego, he wasn't fresh either. Not since being drafted in the fifth round out of Northern Illinois in 2004 had he been a featured player.

Now, he would be the focal point of the offense, despite rookie quarterback Matt Ryan grabbing the headlines. Could he handle everything -- the 20-plus carries per game, the punishment, the expectations and the paycheck -- that comes with being a starter?

"Without a doubt," coach Mike Smith said. "Michael gets it because he's got it. We talk about our young quarterback having it, but Michael Turner has it, too.

"What I mean is here's a guy, who every time he had an opportunity to play in San Diego, he played well. For four years he sat behind the best running back in the league and you never heard him complain. He wasn't out there talking about 'I want to get my touches' and things like that. He simply went about his business. That says a lot about the man and the person.

"When we were deciding which way we were going to go at that position, we were looking for traits beyond the skill set. He had those physical tools and the style we wanted. He's a high character guy and that's the thing that confirms it all for us. I don't know how many of those games he has in him like he just had, but he's going to keep working hard and being productive and that's all we can ask for."

From 2004-2006, the Falcons led the NFL in rushing. Warrick Dunn zigged, Michael Vick zagged. It was a gimmicky but potent attack between the 20s, but it lacked the punch that Smith and new offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey wanted. That's why Dunn, who had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in the Falcons' run-happy span, was dispatched this spring in favor of Turner, the 5-foot-10, 244-pound, between-the-tackles mauler, who also possesses breakaway speed.

Coincidentally, Turner and the Falcons face Dunn and the Buccaneers Sunday in Tampa.

"We saw Michael do it in preseason and we would hear people say, 'Yeah, it's only preseason,'" said veteran center Todd McClure, the anchor of the line for 10 seasons. "The guys in the locker room knew it was going to carry over into the regular season. What we did and what he did is not going to be a one-time fluke. If we give him holes, even a crease, he's going to make plays."

As Tomlinson's backup, Turner averaged just more than four touches a game and 314 yards a season. In his one game as a starter for Atlanta, he carried the ball 22 times -- more than a quarter of his career season-high (80) in San Diego. He only needs 282 more yards to break his season-best rushing total.


"To win the next game," Turner said. "Nothing can be any bigger than that."

The literal ground work Turner laid in Week 1 is the formula the Falcons hope to base their offense around, not only in terms of structure, but to minimize the pressure on Ryan. The No. 3 overall draft pick only threw the ball 13 times against the Lions, completing nine.

In theory, things couldn't be any more ideal.

Defensive coaches have video, though, so expect upcoming opponents to stack the box with at least eight defenders, not wanting to be the next victim Turner goes Usain Bolt against. Ryan will have to step up at some point, but Plan A is always the best option.

"Though it is only one game, it is very clear that everyone in the league can see that Michael is the type of running back that can help lead the running attack," said first-time general manager Thomas Dimitroff, whose signing of Turner was one of the first moves he made upon being hired. "He's obviously a very talented, strong, power runner with speed to break away and the vision. What we have is a nice 1-2 tandem with Michael and Jerious (Norwood) to help us in this transition process and the evolution of an offense with a rookie quarterback at the helm."

Turner noted that the excitement over his early success shouldn't drown out the surprising play of the offensive line, a unit in transition that was the team's biggest question mark. Much of what was proposed by Smith and Mularkey regarding the offense echoed the plan of former coach Bobby Petrino in his abbreviated, 13-game stint in 2007. There would be a power run game keyed by a big, nasty offensive line.

Yet, Petrino and his staff tried to beef up a unit of zone-scheme blockers at the lunch counter and attempt to have them maul opponents with their increased girth, and with prodding from a coaching staff far less experienced in the NFL game than the current group. In a nutshell: square pegs, round holes. Atlanta's line couldn't have looked any worse in 2007 or provided a more bleak future.

New offensive line coach Paul Boudreau, a 21-year coaching veteran, mixed in new players -- guard Harvey Dahl and first-round pick Sam Baker (left tackle) -- with second-year guard Justin Blalock, veteran right tackle Tyson Clabo and McClure and injected a healthy dose of tough love. Combined with more compatible techniques and schemes, the weak link has been dependable and effective.

"They have been great since we went through OTAs," Turner said of the offensive line. "What all of this shows is we have a lot of potential to do some great things this year. We don't' have to wait 'til next year. That game last Sunday was a vision of what the coaches wanted. We have the type of guys they wanted on this team. It will pay off for a lot more than just that one game."

Turner's downhill running style is so effective because it generates momentum.

Apparently, so has his arrival as a full-time starter in Atlanta.

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