Seeing more Michael in Atlanta??

By D. Orlando Ledbetter
Updated: August 2, 2010

FLOWERY BRANCH — That flash zipping around the fields at the Falcons’ training camp is the down-sized Michael Turner.

After an injury-marred 2009 season, Turner has spent a great deal of time in the training room re-sculpting his body and decreasing his body fat.

He appears to be much faster running to the edge and busting through the holes at the line of scrimmage.

“I’m feeling great,” Turner said. “I’m just trying to get that pop back, that explosiveness that I was getting in the middle of last year. This year I want to start off with it.”

Turner attributed his slow start last season to being out of shape.

He had rounded into shape and appeared primed for another mega-season when he suffered what essentially was a season-ending high right ankle sprain against Carolina in the ninth game.

He was rushed back two weeks later against Tampa Bay and was re-injured. He tried to play three weeks after that, against the New York Jets, but took what appeared to be a targeted hit from safety Jim Leonhard on the first play of the game and was out for the remainder of the season.

Turner is determined to prove that the 1,699-yard season in 2008 was not a fluke.

“I’m leaner this year,” Turner said. “People can see it. Everybody has noticed the change. They see me out here working hard.

“I’m just ready to get back out here and play some football. Missing those games last year made me appreciate the game of football even more.”

The Falcons also are looking to expand Turner’s game and get him more involved in the passing attack. He has only 22 career receptions, but he wants to be more of a threat coming out of the backfield.

“You have to work all year round to improve all facets of your game,” Turner said. “It’s not like I went out and caught 100 balls a day or anything.”

However, during organized team activities, Turner and the running backs stayed afterward to work on catching passes.

“Michael just hasn’t had the opportunity throughout his entire career to catch passes, but he does have good hands,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

Turner flashed his hands in practice Sunday.

“He made a nice catch on a screen pass,” running backs coach Gerald Brown said. “If he can improve that part of his game, that’s just going to make him a better football player.”

The Falcons have said they plan to spread some of the rushing load around more. After rushing 376 times in 2008, Turner was on pace for another season of 300 or more carries in 2009. If he can catch passes, that would make him a viable option on third downs.

“We want to make sure that we have a very good rotation with our running backs,” Smith said. “More and more people are going to the running back position-by-committee approach where you have your featured back and you have your third-down back. It would be nice to have Michael in there in some of those third-down situations.”

Turner is just fine with the new pass-catching responsibilities.

“We have to find creative ways to get me the football,” Turner said. “We just don’t want to be vanilla and hammer it away on every play. If we do something different and now and then, catch them off guard, that would be great for us.”

But, really, can he catch?

“Yeah, I can catch,” Turner said. “People haven’t just thrown me the ball.”