By Matthew Asher
Michael “The Burner” Turner, RB #33
College: Northern Illinois
Experience: 9 years
With the NFL depending more and more upon a passing game, it’s refreshing to come across a player who still has the old-school running back “Three yards and a cloud of dust” mentality. Fortunately for the Falcons, their running back Michael Turner exemplifies that state of mind.
Turner played college football at Northern Illinois University. His freshman and sophomore years were notable for being “un”-notable. In those two years, he ran the ball 292 times, rushing for a combined 1,378 yards and 10 touchdowns averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Everything changed his junior year. In just 12 games, Turner carried the ball 338 times for an impressive 1,915 yards, 19 touchdowns averaging 5.7 yards per carry. In five of those games he rushed for more than 200 yards and had two games where he scored five touchdowns.
As a senior, his numbers were still impressive, but not an improvement. Just like his junior year, Turner finished second in the nation in rushing yards. In addition to Turner’s 1,648 rushing yards, he scored 17 total touchdowns (14 on the ground, 3 receiving) and finished up his career at Northern Illinois with school records in both rushing yards (4,941) and touchdowns (46). Those two records have been broken by Garrett Wolfe.
Michael was selected by the San Diego Chargers in the fifth round of the 2004 NFL Draft as the 154th overall pick. As a rookie, Turner played the majority of his snaps on special teams, but was a starter in the final game of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs. He finished the game with 87 rushing yards.
As LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup, Turner didn’t see much action as a running back, but when he was put in the game, he made the most of his opportunities. In his sophomore year in the NFL, Turner came off the bench to help the Chargers defeat the then-undefeated Indianapolis Colts. He rushed for 113 yards including the game-clinching 83-yard touchdown run.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Turner finally started to get attention from the league. In the AFC Divisional playoff game, Turner filled in for the injured Tomlinson with 71 rushing yards on 17 carries.
In the 2008 offseason, the Falcons signed Turner to a six-year contract. In his first game as a Falcon, the running back broke the franchise single game rushing record with 220 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. The 220 yards was, at the time, the second-highest opening day rushing total behind O.J. Simpson’s 250 yards in 1973. The 220 yards did set a new NFL record as the most rushing yards debuting for a new team. Turner started all 16 games for the Falcons that year and broke the team record of rushing touchdowns with 17 (Jamal Anderson scored 14 in 1998).
Proving that he didn’t burn out after that monstrous first game, Turner also rushed for 208 yards in the final game of the season, making him the first Falcon to record a 200+ yards rushing in both the first and last game of the season. The player’s hard work in the 2008 campaign was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl selection.
Turner currently owns two Atlanta Falcon records. The aforementioned rushing touchdowns in a season and franchise leader in rushing touchdowns with 52 following the 2012 Week 3 victory over his former team. Turner also shares the franchise record with T.J. Duckett for most TD’s in a single game (4) and total points scored in a single game (24).
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Matthew Asher is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta sports related. His work can be found on Examiner.com.