FLOWERY BRANCH – Falcons running back Michael Turner is fine with his carries being mildly reduced in 2012.
But if there is a drastic cut from his average of 20.1 carries a game over the last four seasons to say, 10 carries a game, he’ll have a major objection with the new offense that’s being installed in training camp.
“I’ll just see what happens,” Turner said. “Ten carries a game, I don’t think I’ll be that effective like that. But you know, I’m going to make the most of my opportunities like I always have.”
The Falcons would like to spread more of the running back carries around to second-year man Jacquizz Rodgers and dependable utility back Jason Snelling, who’s a great pass catcher out of the backfield.
Under former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, the offense revolved around Turner’s bruising runs as he averaged 20.1 carries a game in 59 regular-season games.
He led the league in carries in two of the past four seasons and was second in the league with 301 carries last season. His led the league in carries with 376 in 2008 and 334 in 2010.
“We’ll see,” Turner said about his pending reduction. “It always goes with the flow of the game. You can’t even say that we are going to go out here and throw the ball 50 times or run the ball 30 to 40 times. It all goes with situations. We play situational football.”
Just a little over a week into training camp, the Falcons have spent more time on their passing attack. In one recent 18-play session, they threw 12 passes and had six run plays. In another 18-play session, they threw 13 passes and had five run plays.
“I think my work load has been the same,” Turner said. “We are working on a lot of things right now. You can’t really tell because we are installing the entire offense during training camp.”
But the Falcons are 22-3 when Turner runs for more than 100 yards. They are 4-6 when quarterback Matt Ryan passes for more than 300 yards. In a passing league, they’ve won by running the football.
“There has been an emphasis on some passing stuff,” Turner said. “But we have a lot of weapons and guys need to touch the football.”
Turner has accounted for more than 1,450 yards in offense in three of the past four seasons. He’s gone to two Pro Bowls and made the All-Pro team after his mega-2008 season.
The Falcons said they were going to try to reduce his carries last season, but he ended up with 301, second in the league.
Part of Turner’s success can be attributed to the lead-blocking of fullback Ovie Mughelli, who was released over the offseason. Rookie Bradie Ewing and Mike Cox are in a battle to replace the former Pro Bowler.
“These last couple of days, they’ve been going after these linebackers a little bit,” Turner said. “They are looking good, but I don’t know about putting them on Ovie’s level yet. He was a Pro Bowler and they’ve still got work to do.”
New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, just like Mularkey, has leaned heavily on his running game over his past three seasons.
With Koetter at the controls in Jacksonville, Maurice Jones-Drew led the league in carries with 343 in 2011. He was eighth in the league with 299 carries in 2010 and fifth with 312 carries in 2009.
Turner also turned 30 on Feb. 13. Traditionally, turning 30 signals the end of the road for some of the league’s top running backs.
However, Turner may be a little different because he was used sparingly as a reserve in San Diego. He had just 228 carries in four seasons with the Chargers.
The over-30 running back club has been a mixed bag.
Emmitt Smith, Ricky Watters, Curtis Martin and Tiki Barber continued to prosper after turning 30.
However, Jerome Bettis, Shaun Alexander, Marshall Faulk and Eddie George never rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season after turning 30.
There are some anomalies.
John Riggins rushed for more than 1,000 yards at 34 and 35.
Back in 1964, Pittsburgh’s John Henry Johnson rushed for more than 1,000 yards at age 35.
“I can’t worry about my age,” Turner said. “I feel good. I still feel fresh.”
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