Michael Turner: How Good Will the Atlanta Falcons RB Be in 2012?

Drew Tull@@drewtullContributor IIAugust 5, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01:  Michael Turner #33 of the Atlanta Falcons against Roy Miller #90 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Georgia Dome on January 1, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

After playing in the shadow of San Diego Charger LaDainian Tomlinson for four years, 2008 was the year that Michael Turner stepped into the spotlight as the Atlanta Falcons' featured running back.

He has filled the role very well over the years by being a consistent workhorse for the Falcons.  In 2008, he had 1,699 yards and finished first in NFL rushing attempts in 2008.  

He was injured in 2009 and finished with only 871 yards.  

He then rebounded to go for 1,371 yards in 2010 and again finished first in NFL rushing attempts.  

In 2011, he had 1,340 yards and finished second in NFL rushing attempts.

That brings Turner to his age-30 season, and fear of a full-fledged decline is setting in.  And it is not just the fans or media that are worried—it has spread to the Falcons.

Chief among those taking notice is new Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.  

"The way this roster has been built, we have some other backs that are very capable. We have good competition in the backfield," Koetter said (via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

The sheer amount of carries alone is not the concern, but the late-season dip in production has Koetter's attention.  

In 2010, Turner averaged 3.8 yards per carry during Weeks 10 through 17.  

In 2011, Turner only managed to exceed 3.6 yards per carry just once over his final seven games (including the playoffs).

This is after Turner has averaged 4.4 yards per carry over his Falcons career (1,190 carries for 5,281 yards). 

Falcons head coach Mike Smith and running backs coach Gerald Brown have both said that the plan in 2012 is to limit Turner's carries.  

"I don’t envision that Turner will have over 300 carries this season," Mike Smith said. "I think it’s too much. When you multiply that, three out of four years, we need to reduce his workload."

The Falcons are implementing a more no-huddle heavy, vertical passing attack under Koetter where the running backs will have a lot more looks catching screen passes.

This more wide-open style of attack will feature the explosive weapons of receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White along with quarterback Matt Ryan and will de-emphasize the need to grind the running game with Turner.

In theory, this should keep him fresh for a playoff push as well as play to the strength of other running backs like Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling.  

At 5'6", 196 pounds, Rodgers is built like a small-scat back in the mold of New Orleans Saints' Darren Sproles.  Rodgers could be used much like former Falcons running back Warrick Dunn was, as a third-down type back with the ability to play all three downs if necessary.

In a recent interview with ESPN, coach Mike Smith said Rodgers "has the skill set to play on all three downs."

"Jacquizz is not little," Smith said. "He's short, but he's thick." Smith then went on to glow over Rodgers' improved pass-protection abilities in the article.

Snelling, 28, is a 5'11", 234-pound back who has worked mostly as a third-down and special teams threat.  Snelling was resigned to a three-year contract this offseason and will be challenged by Rodgers for snaps.  Snelling is also a standout in pass protection.   

While Atlanta's backfield looks like a fantasy football train wreck in the making, the plan makes sense, as it features all of the talent on the roster to make the Falcons contenders.


Drew's Prediction for 2012 Falcons Rushing Stats

  • Michael Turner - 225 carries for 950 yards and six touchdowns
  • Jacquizz Rodgers - 125 carries for 425 yards and three touchdowns
  • Jason Snelling - 75 carries for 350 yards and one touchdown