Out of LT's shadow, Turner leaps into the limelight with Atlanta

ATLANTA -- Matt Ryan's $72-million contract grabbed headlines a week ago, but the deal likely to have the strongest immediate impact on the Atlanta Falcons came in March.

That was when the Falcons signed Michael Turner to a six-year agreement worth more than $34 million.

Ryan, the third overall pick of the draft, figures to encounter his share of growing pains before he develops into the franchise quarterback the Falcons expect will lead them for many years.

Turner, a free agent from the San Diego Chargers, figures to instantly step into the featured running back role he patiently waited four seasons to fill while backing up the great LaDainian Tomlinson.

Offseason of change

</center>[![](http://static.nfl.com/static/content/catch_all/nfl_image/falcons_logo.jpg)](http://www.nfl.com/teams/atlantafalcons/profile?team=ATL) No team underwent a bigger offseason overhaul than the 
[Falcons](/teams/atlantafalcons/profile?team=ATL), who used the draft and free agency to replenish their roster. 


Running back

Tight end

In:Ben Hartsock, Martrez Milner
Out: Alge Crumpler

Offensive line


In:Curtis Lofton
Out: Demorrio Williams


In: Erik Coleman


In: Jason Elam

Head coach

In:Mike Smith
Out: Bobby Petrino

General manager

In: Thomas Dimitroff

Out: Rich McKay (still with team)

Ryan proved to be a towering and talented presence at Boston College, offering hope that he can emerge as the consistently effective passer the Falcons have long wanted under center.

With virtually every touch of the ball in San Diego, Turner established himself as a powerful and explosive runner. He is the very embodiment of the style of play new Falcons coach Mike Smith wants to see on both sides of the ball.

"We want to be a physical, big strong football team that controls both sides of the line of scrimmage ... that's going to impose their will on their opponents," Smith said. "That's the only thing that I've known in the NFL."

As an assistant coach in Baltimore, he saw how the physical, big philosophy allowed the Ravens to win a Super Bowl. As an assistant coach in Jacksonville, he saw how the physical, big philosophy allowed the Jaguars to become a playoff contender.

And that is exactly what Smith and new general manager Thomas Dimitroff are determined to put in place with the Falcons.

"That was one of the factors that made me want to come here," Turner said. "I knew what kind of team they wanted to build here and the type of attitude they wanted to bring to this team, and I feel I fit that mold. It's going to be a lot of downhill running."

"He's short, but he's not little," Smith said of the 5-foot-10, 237-pound Turner. "When you see him come through the hole, it's knees and helmet. There's really no surface to tackle him."

Turner is even more dangerous in the open field. In each of the last three seasons, he has had one run of 73 yards or longer, including touchdowns of 74 and 83 yards.

Turner has averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 228 career attempts. Couple that with the 6.2-yard average of incumbent Falcons running back Jerious Norwood, and it's easy to see why Smith is excited about the type of offense that new coordinator Mike Mularkey, whose power-oriented scheme was highly effective when he held the same job in Pittsburgh, is installing.

"We feel, when we team Michael with Jerious Norwood, it's going to give us a formidable one-two punch," Smith said.

Typical of Turner's humble nature is the way he describes what he intends to bring to the Falcons as a player.

"Just a consistent runner," he said. "Somebody who's going to just pound the ball out every down and every chance they get the ball in hand. Somebody who just grinds the clock, but also uses speed to break long runs. Whatever it takes to win games."

The Falcons' decision-makers weren't merely impressed with Turner's physical skills when they decided to give him a lucrative contract that includes $15 million in guaranteed money. They liked how he handled himself as an understudy to one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. Despite clearly showing the ability to be a starter, Turner never was heard complaining about his limited play. He was a positive influence in the locker room.

"It speaks very well of his character and of his makeup," Smith said. "And when he's had his opportunities to perform, he's performed extremely well."

Constant support from family and friends helped Turner overcome any sense of discouragement from living in Tomlinson's enormous shadow. It also helped that months before he departed San Diego, Tomlinson told him, "It's your time. You're ready."

"I had to just stay focused and wait my turn," Turner said. "My whole life, it seems I've always had to wait. I didn't start all four years in college (Northern Illinois). I kind of knew what that feeling was and I was just waiting and itching to get out there. I was going to make the most of the opportunities I got. Every time I was on the field, I was just going to make good plays.

"I never had doubts. When I got drafted in the fifth round by San Diego, I was like, 'Okay, let me sit back and take this positively. Don't let this mess with my head or anything like that. I'm playing with LT.' He was already an established running back, and me being able to play with him and learn some things from him really helped me adjust my game to the NFL level. It worked out great.

"If it was somebody else who didn't do things like LT, I probably would have been more frustrated. But, obviously, LT is king of San Diego."

Turner didn't talk about becoming king of Atlanta. That isn't his style.

But with his running skills and the Falcons' intentions to take full advantage of them, he is going to have the chance to become every bit as important to his new team as Tomlinson was to his old one.

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