Snap Judgments: Turner set to break out as Atlanta's feature back
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we arrive at the midway point of the NFL's fake-game schedule, putting us (thankfully) just 17 days away from when they start keeping score for real. ...
Brett Favre's a Jet, Jeremy Shockey's a Saint, and Jason Taylor now does his sacking (and dancing?) in D.C. While those headline acquisitions have sucked up most of the oxygen in the NFL the past month or so, my pick for the best get of the offseason remains Falcons running back Michael Turner, who signed with Atlanta way back at the start of free agency in March.
And with a nod to the impact that defensive end Jared Allen could make in Minnesota, Turner is still the new face in a new place that I expect to pay the biggest return on the investment in 2008.
So far, it's tough to quibble with the Falcons' move to sign LaDainian Tomlinson's former understudy to a lavish six-year, $34.5 million contract. In Turner's first two preseason games as Atlanta's No. 1 back, the fifth-year vet has run nine times for 135 yards, which works out to a tidy 15.0-yard average. In his homefield debut Saturday night against the Colts, Turner rolled to 113 yards on just four carries, the highlights of which were gains of 63 and 52 yards, both of which set up Jason Elam first-quarter field goals in the Falcons' 16-9 loss.
Setting aside Turner's rare blend of power and speed for the moment, I've heard plenty of folks question whether he could possibly produce big numbers this season while running behind an Atlanta offensive line that will be average at best and makeshift at worst. I can't tell you if Turner will have as many holes to run through as he should this season, but I'm confident he'll hit the ones that are there fairly frequently, and he'll pop his share of them for defense-gashing chunks of yardage.
New Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey knows exactly what he has in Turner, and he's not going to under-use Turner's ability to both run over people and run away from them. Atlanta fans can count on that. The Falcons want to employ third-year rusher Jerious Norwood as a change of pace option in tandem with Turner, but after waiting four years for his chance to carry the offensive load for a team, Turner won't lack for work.
"All I know is that when he went in there, people couldn't tackle him,'' said Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who played with Turner in San Diego in 2004-05. "Mike was a bruiser, but he's going to give more punishment than he takes. I knew at some point he was going to get an opportunity to be a No. 1 back in this league.''
Turner first opened mine and a lot of other folks' eyes back in mid-December 2005, when he helped the Chargers knock off the 13-0 Colts in Indy with that memorable game-clinching 83-yard touchdown burst with just over two minutes to go in the 26-17 San Diego upset. Brees was the Chargers quarterback that day, and he still can't believe someone so big (5-foot-10, 244 pounds) could move so fast.
"No one really knew he had that top-end speed, even though we had all heard of Michael 'The Burner' Turner,'' Brees said. "It was like one of those moments where you go, 'Oh, man. Where did that come from?' ''
I'm convinced there are going to be more of those moments for Turner in Atlanta this season. Suspect offensive line and all, the Falcons made the best move of the year in enticing Turner into their backfield. After the debacle of Atlanta's 2007 season, it was the right call for a team in desperate need of something or someone to count on.
A concussion for Derek Anderson could mean Cleveland has concluded the smooth sailing portion of its preseason and it's time for a little rough water. All I know is Browns head coach Romeo Crennel was really hoping to not open the Pandora's Box of having backup quarterback Brady Quinn play long enough and well enough to kick start any hint of a quarterback controversy.
I'm not saying there was a great choice to be had by Bears head coach Lovie Smith, but I believe he made the best possible call in going with Kyle Orton over Rex Grossman at starting quarterback. Chicago has seen the Grossman movie more than once and knows how it ends. Orton's story at least has yet to be fully told. That's what it would have come down to for me were I a Bears fan.
Chris Henry back to Cincinnati? Really? I guess Marvin Lewis isn't calling all the shots in Bengals-land.