Falcons coach Mike Smith believes running back Michael Turner might be in the best shape of his Falcons career. The seventh-year pro basically has not had any time off, because the ankle injury that cut short his 2009 season required him to come in for rehab early in the offseason.
"Michael has been working extremely hard," Smith says. "He is the type of guy that has a lot of pride about him, and he wants to [perform] this season like he had in Year 1 with us. But, you know, I probably made a mistake with him last year. Michael wanted to play and come back in the worst way against the Bucs [after sitting out a week with the high ankle sprain]; and he came back and made it through the first quarter but got injured again. If I had to do it over again, I wouldn't have put him out there. He was like the competitor that you want all of your players to be; he was in my ear saying, 'I'm ready. I want to get back out there.' You love that, but maybe sometimes you have to step back. That was a good learning experience for me as a head coach."
Smith also realized that he doesn't want to run his workhorse into the ground. The third-year coach won't divulge details, but he says there will be "parameters" on how often Turner carries the ball this season. The Falcons won't go into a game saying he'll be restricted, but they do want to be more conscious of the physical pounding Turner takes. The last thing anyone wants is for him to need an extra long recovery period in the offseason. There are photos to remind the Falcons of how that worked out last time, even if Turner doesn't want to look at them.
If Turner can overcome his durability issues, a top 5 finish could be a reality. Coming to camp in shape is certainly a step in the right direction.