Veteran RB Turner shows off leaner form at Falcons' minicamp

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Ovie Mughelli isn't swayed when others call Michael Turner "The Burner."

The Atlanta Falcons' fullback has his own nickname for Turner, the star running back.

"I call Mike fat whether he's heavy or not," Mughelli said Sunday. "That's just my nickname for him: Fatty."

No one else called Turner fat in the Falcons' three-day minicamp, which ended Sunday -- and that's a change.

Inside Falcons' minicamp senior writer Steve Wyche stopped by Atlanta's minicamp practice on Friday, and a slimmed-down Michael Turner wasn't the only Falcon turning heads.  More ...

Turner heard some fat jokes one year ago when he may have weighed close to 260 pounds in minicamp. Some said the 5-foot-10 Turner looked like a fullback.

Turner said he is back at his listed weight of 244 pounds, thanks to a renewed commitment to proper diet and conditioning.

Even Mughelli is impressed.

"I definitely see a difference," Mughelli said. "He's done a lot this year working on the treadmill, the step machine. Whatever he can do to get some of that weight off, he's doing it. Mike's done a good job and I think it's going to show this season."

Turner also earned compliments for his trimmer look from coach Mike Smith, who said the running back has fully recovered from an ankle injury that forced him to miss five of the last seven games in 2009.

"I thought Michael looked very good," Smith said. "No ill effects from the ankle. I thought he was putting his foot in the ground and cutting, and that was the big thing we wanted to make sure we saw, his ability to cut.

"I think he's in great shape. He spent a lot of time this offseason with our athletic performance department working very, very hard."

Turner was beaming as he talked about his return to good health.

"I didn't finish the season last year so it just feels good, feels exciting to line up out here with the guys again and play some football," he said.

Smith and the Falcons hope Turner can return to his 2008 form, when he ranked second in the NFL with 1,699 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns and earned All-Pro honors.

"Michael had a long season in 2008, not only with the number of carries, but he was a Pro Bowl performer and his season was extended into February," Smith said. "I don't know that he had the opportunity last year to train as much as he has this year.

"He's in much better condition at this time this year than he was at this time last year and that's coming off an injury, so that says a lot for what Michael has done."

The short offseason showed in Turner's slow start to the 2009 season. He rushed for 100 yards only once in the first six games. Then Turner gained momentum with three straight 100-yard games before spraining his right ankle at Carolina on Nov. 15.

Turner managed only 13 carries for 40 yards the rest of the season and finished with 871 yards rushing.

The Falcons fell to 15th in the league in rushing last year after ranking second in 2008. No one has connected Turner's ankle injury to his 2009 weight, but he has worked to make sure it's not an issue this year.

Turner said his weight "just looks different on me."

"I just moved it around a little bit to all the right places," he said.

Notes: Smith announced plans for a four-day rookie minicamp to begin May 17. ... RB Jerious Norwood, rookie WR Kerry Meier and DE Chauncey Davis were held out of the final practice of the camp with what Smith said were minor injuries. He said the players and others recovering from 2009 injuries, including DT Peria Jerry, CB Brian Williams, WR Harry Douglas and S William Moore, should be ready for the start of offseason team work on May 25. ... Falcons owner Arthur Blank attended Sunday's practice with his wife, Stephanie. "We're all kind of shooting higher than we did last year," Blank said. "I've been pretty public that I was excited about back-to-back winning seasons, but now I'm excited about rings."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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