Vivlamore reporting from Flowery Branch.
The Falcons have stockpiled an arsenal of aerial weapons. Quarterback Matt Ryan has the likes of Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas at his disposal. He has made good use of them after two exhibition games throwing for 329 yards, fifth best in the NFL’s preseason, and two touchdowns in limited action.
But don’t forget about Michael Turner.
Although the running back has just 14 yards on eight carries in exhibition games against the Ravens and Bengals, Turner and coaches insist there is no reason to panic. Relax. It’s the preseason, they said.
“It’s just a matter of getting reps,” Turner said Tuesday. “It’s just a glorified practice. You just want to get out there, get the looks and make the corrections from the game tape like you do for any other practice. You still want to look sharp and crisp out there and hopefully we’ll clean all that up this week.”
The Falcons play the Dolphins Friday. They rushed 21 times for 71 yards against the Ravens and 18 times for 81 yards against the Bengals, including Turner’s three carries for minus-3 yards. Turner’s numbers are down from previous preseasons:
*2008: 18 carries for 169 yards in four games
*2009: 27 carries for 187 yards in four games
*2010: 28 carries for 108 yards in three games
*2011: 18 carries for 54 yards in three games
“To be honest, I never worry about the running game in preseason,” new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. “I just don’t see why you want to plow it up in there and get your backs beat up. We know that Michael Turner can run the football.”
The Falcons plan to cut the 30-year-old Turner’s carries this season. He had over 300 attempts in three of his four seasons in Atlanta and was in the top three in the league for rushing attempts each year. The lone exception was 2009 when he was limited to 178 carries in 11 games due to injury. He has been productive each season, rushing for 1,699 yards (2008), 871 yards (2009), 1,371 yards (2010) and 1,340 yards (2011).
Turner is making the adjustment with the NFL becoming a passing league. Gone are the days in San Diego when, as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup, he watched the Chargers extensively run the ball with young quarterback Philip Rivers. Gone also are his early days in Atlanta when he carried much of the load while Ryan learned the game.
“You know you are not going to get it five or six times in a row and just pound it all the way down the field,” Turner said. “It’s kind of an adjustment because we are getting used to having these established weapons. Is it run first? Is it pass first? Really it’s score first. That’s what it is. Start fast and control the tempo. We are fortunate enough to be able to run it or pass it.”
Turner will share some of the rushing attack with Jacquizz Rodgers, entering his second season and first with a true offseason. Turner said Rodgers is getting more comfortable in the offense and there will be times when either he or the coaches will call for the switch to the much smaller change-of-pace back.
One personnel issue the Falcons are currently dealing with in the running game is at fullback. Pro Bowler Ovie Mughelli was released in salary cap move that saved the team $3 million in May. Fifth-round draft pick Bradie Ewing was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in the exhibition opener. That leaves Mike Cox and newly signed Lousaka Polite primarily competing to block for Turner. Through the first two exhibition games there have been good and bad moments for the fullbacks.
Turner said the importance of the fullback can’t be underestimated. He has run behind Pro Bowlers Lorenzo Neal and Mughelli during his career. Mughelli missed the final 10 games, including the playoffs, with a torn ACL last season.
Part of the exhibition season work is to also develop an on-field chemistry.
“When you are a fullback you can dip into certain holes and dip out and know exactly where I’m going to be,” Turner said. “We just have to get that down pat. If the coaches want to go to a two-back set, we have to be sharp and on the same page.”
- Chris Vivlamore
THE LATEST NEWS