Falcons' Turner didn't expect such a reduced role

Falcons' Turner didn't expect such a reduced role

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Michael Turner used to be Mr. Reliable for the Atlanta Falcons.

Hand off the ball and watch him churn out the yards.

But the big back's production is way down this season, a change of direction that was planned from the start but has been more pronounced than anyone expected. Even Turner conceded Wednesday he didn't expect his carries to be reduced so significantly.

``It's a mental challenge'' he said. ``But there's not anything I can do about it. Just go out there and play my role, do whatever it takes to help this team win.''

To his credit, Turner hasn't complained at all about having a lesser role in the offense, at least not publicly. But, at age 30, he scoffs at those who say he's all washed up.

``I don't feel any older,'' he insisted. ``I still feel fresh. I probably feel fresher that last year, actually.''

Even so, there's no denying that Turner is no longer regarded as one of the NFL's elite running backs. He's on pace to gain about 900 yards, far off the what he did his first four seasons in Atlanta.

Turner rushed for a career-best 1,699 yards in 2008, and more than 1,300 yards each of the last two seasons. The only time he was held to less than 1,000 yards in Atlanta was 2009, when he missed five games and parts of two others with injuries.

Coach Mike Smith made it clear at the beginning of the year he wanted to reduce Turner's workload, especially with a new offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, coming on board. The Falcons knew they had to do a better job taking advantage of their myriad weapons in the passing game: quarterback Matt Ryan, receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, not to mention Hall of Famer-to-be Tony Gonzalez at tight end.

In addition, Atlanta wanted to expand the role of second-year back Jacquizz Rodgers, who at 5-foot-6 and 188 pounds is more of a darting, breakaway threat than the plodding Turner.

Still, Turner has admittedly been caught off guard to some degree. He's averaging just over 14 carries a game, down from nearly 19 a year ago and far off the pace he set during his Atlanta debut in `08, when he carried the ball a staggering 23.5 times per contest.

Asked if he knew what was coming, Turner chose his words carefully.

``Uhh, maybe not as much,'' he said. ``But it's been talked about for months. It's not like this is a total surprise or they caught me off guard with it. I've just to deal with it. Plus, we've got a good weapon in Jacquizz. They want to get him on the field as much as possible.''

Rodgers has rushed for 295 yards, averaging 4.1 per carry, and he's more of a threat as a receiver (43 catches, 327 yards). Turner has rushed for 689 yards, but his yards per carry are down to 3.7 - and, more troubling, he's averaged less than 3 yards in six games. There are times when the 247-pound back looks downright glacial getting to the hole, which has exposed the weaknesses of the guys up front, a group that has never been ranked among the NFL's top lines.

Turner always felt he was at his best when he ran the ball at least 20 times. Last week, he got it seven times for 14 yards in a 30-20 loss to Carolina.

``I think I get more of a rhythm'' with more carries, Turner said. ``Not just me, but the offensive line and the fullbacks, too.''

Despite Turner's drop-off, the Falcons (11-2) have already clinched the NFC South and hope to move a step closer to home-field advantage when they host the New York Giants (8-5) on Sunday.

The success of the team has made his disappointing season - which also included a DUI arrest - a little easier to take.

``I've just got to go out there and grind,'' Turner said. ``One team, one goal. The main thing is winning a Super Bowl. This is the way the coaches feel is the best chance for us to win the Super Bowl.''

With only one year left on his contract, Turner's tenure in Atlanta could be winding down.

It's certainly not farfetched to envision the Falcons going after another running back - perhaps in the draft - to pair with Rodgers.

But Ryan, for one, believes that Turner still has some effective days ahead of him.

``Mike has been a great player here for a long time,'' Ryan said. ``He's still had some unbelievable runs this year. He's just not done it as routinely as he's done it in the past. That can be for a lot of different reasons.''

Smith agreed, stressing that Atlanta's troubles running the ball - especially in short-yardage situations - aren't entirely the fault of Turner. The Falcons rank a dismal 28th in rushing, averaging just under 87 yards per outing.

``I don't think there's a marketable difference in terms of what Mike has been able to do,'' the coach said. ``We've just been very inconsistent running the football. When we've had to run it, we've been able to run the football. But we've been inconsistent in blocking and in executing the run game. I think that's one of the reasons our numbers are down.''

For now, there's no going back to the way things used to be.

``We're in transition right now,'' Turner said. ``People are used to the way we did things in the old days here. But it's new now. Everybody needs to adjust. Not just me. Everybody.''

Notes: S William Moore missed another day of practice. He has been sidelined since injuring a hamstring in the home win over New Orleans on Nov. 29. ... CB Asante Samuel, who dressed but didn't play in Carolina because of a right lingering shoulder injury, took part in practice on a limited basis. ... Also sitting out practice were DT Jonathan Babineaux (ribs) and WR Roddy White (knee), but both are expected to play against the Giants.


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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 75 Capitals at Canadiens Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Montreal Canadiens

Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

When: 7:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Canadiens will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (43-24-7) take on the Canadiens (27-36-12) Saturday, March 24 at 7:00 p.m. ET in Montreal.


The Capitals-Canadiens game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:00 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:00 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
6:30 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:00 p.m. — Capitals at Canadiens
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps Overtime


You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—D-line scoop, Alex Smith's big deal

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—D-line scoop, Alex Smith's big deal

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, March 24, 33 days before the NFL draft.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins and NBC Sports Washington.

Free agency update: What's next for the Redskins on the D-line? The Redskins have been casting out lines for defensive linemen since before free agency officially started but they haven’t been able to reel one in. Part of the issue might be that they know that Vita Vea and Da’Ron Payne are likely to be available in the draft. They have to balance spending big on a lineman vs. being able to get one pretty cheap for the next five years.

Redskins make a D-line contract change, gain roster flexibility—Speaking of the D-line, the team negotiated the removal of a salary guarantee for one player to give themselves more flexibility when it comes time to cut the roster down to 53 in September. See the post for details.

Redskins guarantee Alex Smith a whopping $71 million in new contract—In the words of Joe Biden, this is a big f-----g deal. It showed that the Redskins aren’t afraid to pay a quarterback big money if they think it’s the right guy. It should be noted that whether or not they chose the right guy is something that remains to be seen. Although the post shows that it’s plausible for the Redskins to terminate the deal after three years, I anticipate Smith playing out at least four if not all five years of the contract.

Redskins add another ex-Cowboy as they sign Scandrick—Orlando Scandrick has struggled with injuries the past few years and Redskins fans did not greet the news of his signing with great enthusiasm, to say the least. To point out the bright side, his contract is not pricey by NFL terms ($2.6 million cap hit this year, no guaranteed money beyond a $1 million signing bonus) and from what I have been able to gather it’s possible that change of scenery might give him a boost for a year or two.

Tweet of the week

Well before free agency started, I wrote that the Redskins’ top priorities in free agency should be to get extensions done for Smith, Brandon Scherff, and Jamison Crowder. They should have about $15 million to work with after a few more free agent signings and that would be plenty to get all of those extensions done. And if they do score a big free agent signing, it would be worth it to restructure the contract of someone like Ryan Kerrigan to get them done.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.


Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 23
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 124
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 169

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