New Falcons RB Michael Turner had an extremely impressive Atlanta debut on opening weekend
First impressions are the most important. If that's true, running back Michael Turner made a lot of new friends last Sunday.
How's this for a debut by the Atlanta Falcons' prized free agent catch: 22 carries for a franchise-record 220 yards and two touchdowns?
That kind of pace is essentially impossible to maintain, of course, but the impression Turner made will linger for some time. It certainly lent credence to the Falcons' decision to pursue him so strongly in free agency this offseason.
"We knew that Michael was a very explosive running back, but it probably exceeded what we thought he was going to do in his first game," Head Coach Mike Smith said, in what was surely an understatement. "You wouldn't know that he was going to come out and rush for a team-record 220 yards."
Even if Turner set a standard that will be tough to beat, he didn't exactly surprise Smith and the rest of the Atlanta front office with his hard-charging style and penchant for the big play.
"When we were doing our due diligence and looking at running backs, we thought that Michael was by far the best available free agent running back and we wanted to add a power back into our arsenal," Smith said. "We feel like he is going to be a good mix with Jerious Norwood. I think in this day and time you really need to have two backs and I think that we have a nice one-two punch with both Michael and Jerious [Norwood]."
As for Turner, his big day was a chance to finally show what he could do as a featured back. For the first four years of his career, Turner served as the primary backup to one of the league's great runners, San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.
Turner still managed to show flashes of his potential in his limited action in San Diego, even earning the nickname, "Turner the Burner." But the Northern Illinois product kept quiet and never spoke out about wanting more carries, knowing his day would eventually come somewhere. Atlanta proved to be that place.
Even before he ripped off more than two bills, Turner enjoyed himself on opening day thanks to his new status as a starter.
"It felt great," Turner said. "After I got drafted I just had to be patient and wait my turn. I knew the situation I was going to in San Diego with LaDainian Tomlinson being there.
"I just felt comfortable signing with this coaching staff and everybody accepting me with open arms. Arthur Blank, a great owner, sat down and talked to me and I liked the plan he was coming up with. As a matter of fact, they were the most aggressive team out there that was trying to come get me. They just laid everything out there for me and I accepted it."
The patience Turner possesses – not only in waiting for a hole to open up at the line of scrimmage but also in toughing it out until he got his chance to shine – was a big indicator of the quality of his character, Smith says, and a major reason the Falcons went after him so hard.
"It is hard to really know exactly how a guy is going to be when he is going to get the majority of the carries, but the thing that was most impressive about Michael was when we were doing our due diligence in free agency is not only is he a good football player but he has great character," Smith said. "I think to sit behind LaDainian Tomlinson for four years, and really not say anything publicly, but sit there waiting on his chance, I think that says a lot about his character. We put a lot of stock into things outside of the football field here. Michael definitely is a guy that we were excited about adding to our team."
The 22 carries Turner got in Week 1 set a career high. With one game under his belt as a starting back, Turner said he feels no fatigue and is excited about carrying the load for an entire season.
"No fatigue at all, I'm just going in week-in and week-out," Turner said. "If I get it more I get it more, and if I get it less, that's not a problem either."
Turner is fitting in in more ways than one. The unselfishness one sees in the above comment is something the Falcons' coaching staff preaches to its players.
"You never know when a play is going to break and that is our motto," Turner said. "You never know what play is going to be the big play so we just go out there and everybody is competing for their job, trying to keep pushing, keep fighting and good things will happen."
Turner could have scoffed at the Falcons overtures after seeing the amount of adversity that team went through last season en route to a 4-12 finish. However, while some may brand them as a rebuilding project, Turner doesn't see it that way.
"We are just trying to win ballgames," Turner said. "It's not necessarily like a year to say we are rebuilding. We are just going out there trying to compete and trying to jell as a team. We have a lot of young guys here and we are just going out there each week and giving it our all."
If Turner and the Falcons' Week One performance was any indication, they may have been underestimated by many NFL pundits. But with Turner leading the way, Head Coach Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are certainly taking notice and preparing for Sunday's matchup.
"I think he's got a lot [he wants] to prove to you and prove to me and everybody else that he's an every-down feature back," Gruden said. "This is his first opportunity to really showcase his skill as an every-down back. He's a home run threat, he's a power guy, he's a real, real dude. I wish he would have signed somewhere else, personally."