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His measurables were good: A sub-4.5, 40 yard dash, 5-foot 10-inches, 244 pounds and still only 21. If you could ever go so far as to anthropomorphise a wrecking-ball Michael Turner is what you'd be talking about.
In 2007, Chargers' general manager A.J.Smith was moved to offer him around the league for a mind-blowing first & third-round picks. Such was their evaluation of him at the time based on those cameo performances.
* Quarterback Matt Ryan hasn’t taken the step forward that people were hoping for, for whatever reason.
* The fans weren’t happy with a perceived conservatism from former offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
* Turner has 300-plus carries in three of his past four seasons and has just turned 30.
* Falcons expectations this year compared to those of last year after a blockbuster trade for Julio Jones and expectations of Ryan's next step are probably rather different.
So, Mularkey’s out, Koetter’s in. Same stuff, different day, perhaps?
That might sound a bit like an all-too-familiar song to those in Atlanta who count themselves amongst Mularkey’s detractors. I’d actually go to bat for Koetter here, though. It’s really not that difficult and I’m surprised he’s being viewed by some sections of the Atlanta fan base and press as a bad hire.
What’s often forgotten is that in the following year after Garrard's banner year under Koetter they lost
both their starting guards to Injured Reserve
and that they also had their starting tackle tragically gunned down (14 bullets and paralyzed from the waist down for life).
About the only thing that would put the cherry on the cake is perhaps a more mobile quarterback of the sort he's prefered to work with in the past. I’d imagine that’s more than compensated for by the caliber of passer he could have in Ryan.
* He uses his backs. A lot. Whether it's closer to a 2:1 or a 5:3 split in terms of rush:pass, he'll usually run first to set things up.
* He’s not adverse to having a thunder and lightning approach, a specialist do-it-all back or even a platoon involving his quarterback when it comes to running the ball. Where you see a yellow box in both rushing and receiving, it's the same player. Examples include: Tommy Stowers, Mike Jones and Ronnell Kayhill at Missouri or Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville.
* If he can get a QB rushing play setup, he won't hesitate to call it. Those green boxes on the table not only illustarte the third highest rusher on his teams, but they're also QB's. He’s coached Akili Smith, Rudy Johnson, David Garrard , Tony Grazioli, Phil Johnson and Mike Hart sell. All quarterbacks who are comfortable tucking the ball and taking off – some more than others.
* He also likes to involve his tight ends in the passing game, which will benefit a playmaker like Tony Gonzalez.
* When controlling a drive he likes to set up a vertical passing game, prefering to land the big punches through play-action rather than “jab” his way upfield in a “dink and dunk” manner when it comes to his receiving plays.
So what does all that mean for Turner?
Well, there is both good news and bad for Turner owner's as there are some eerily reminiscent similarities between the situation Koetter found himself in both Atlanta and Jacksonville upon his arrival.
Long-term featured running back, 31 years old
In the example above, you’ve got a 2WR:2RB:1TE personnel grouping: Roddy White is wide right at split end, Julio Jones the flanker. Opposite him, Tony Gonzalez at Tight End , Michael Turner & Jacquizz Rodgers at Running Back (FB = Turner, TB = Jacquizz)
The first choice the defense has to make is: Should the CB#2 on Julio Jones stay with him - and free the underneath of the coverage or should he stay near the line of scrimmage in run support - hoping the free safety is going to cover Jones in his absence. Even if the OLB comes over to help him, they're still outnumbered 2:3 and the play should develop accordingly providing the blocking players all execute. (Gonzalez, Turner, & Left Tackle versus OLB & CB).
The second choice will be made by the free safety (FS): Does he go across to cover Jones (which will be dictated by actions of the CB#2)? If he does, that would leave Roddy White in single coverage which is a dangerous situation that the Falcons have exploited time and time again. Should the FS go across to double up on White, then Jones is home free - no CB & no FS cover.
It's just the sort of vertical passing game Koetter loved setting up in college.
No offensive play is fool proof but it will give an indication of what the new offensive coordinator in Atlanta could be about; trying to set-up single man coverage by using the run and screens to commit defenders. It's a system he's used for well over 20yrs.
There is a point in fantasy football where past performances don't account for much and some indicators not a heck of a lot more, either. This year, the days of Turner being anywhere close to leading the league in carries have well and truly set sail.
People can opine age or injury as the reason, but as you can see from his career he came into the league early and didn’t get much “wear on his tires” of any note until he was 26 years old. That's something that often gets overlooked when debating when – not if – Turner will break down. As I’ve offered in previous forum threads it’s not a concern I share. My concern is Koetter and how he uses his backs.
He did it at Missouri, he did it at Boston College, he did it with Jacksonville. He'll certainly try to do it in Atlanta.
So what are we looking at in terms of carries?
Atlanta had 818 offensive plays with a split of 453-to-365 run-to-pass. I’d expect that to skew only slightly more in favor of the run. It’s not like Mularkey was a pass-centric guy anyway. With a pretty close 5-to-3 ratio anyway, we may as well call it 500-to-300 for the Falcons next year.
Perhaps, ultimately it’ll be head coach Mike Smith who will have the last word on any potential of a rally for Turner and his fantasy owners in 2012?
“ We want to keep [Turner] as our feature back, but we need to make sure some of the other guys get carries as well … I think the thing we have to do as Michael gets a little older is to start putting him on a ‘pitch count’ in terms of the number of carries,” Smith said.
We can all prognosticate how those run plays will be carved up between Turner, Rodgers and Jason Snelling (and even Ryan I suspect will scramble more than he used to, though it certainly shouldn‘t ever be a feature) till the sun goes down in several different time zones. Feel free.
I wouldn't expect Rodgers to jump up to Maurice Jones-Drew's level of output until next year. Jones-Drew had already had a year of 150 carries before Koetter landed in Jacksonville, which made his job a lot easier. If the projected amount of almost 500 carries for the Atlanta rushing game in 2012 is close to the mark, then I'd expect that his near 60 touches & 20 receptions would easily double as he emerges into the void left by Turner's diminishing role.
Don't believe me? Here's the response to how Atlanta plans to resolve the scaling back of Turner's role:
“ Jacquizz figures into that quite a bit. We drafted him to be a change-of-pace back and we found out very quickly that he’s a guy that is more than a change-of-pace back. Even though he’s short, he’s not little. He’s a guy we feel like we can integrate more into our offense.’’ said H.C. Mike Smith
In the right scheme I'm more than "bullish" about Rodger's prospects. Koetter's scheme is - at least on paper - a much, much better fit for his chances of production than Mularkey's ever could've been.
In the interim, he’s got an uphill struggle on his hands against a talented back, an offensive coordinator that will be looking for new ways to integrate Rodgers, a head coach who wants to scale back his role and ultimately a general manager that won’t want to pay the contract he’s due (as it currently stands). It won't be easy.
Fred Taylor still managed to shoulder around 220 and 140 carries in the two years following Koetter's arrival for a combined 1,750+ yards and six touchdowns. I think Turner has more left in the tank at this stage of his career and an 850-yard, seven touchdown performance in 2012 based on his career yards per carry to-date and dependant on goal-line and red zone vultures, as a last "hurrah" of sorts for owners, isn't out of the question.
Make no doubt about it though, It's a changing of the guard in Atlanta.
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