posted 8 years ago
LAKE FOREST -- Michael Turner never mapped out a five-year plan after Northern Illinois, but he learned how to survive.
Turner didn't have the pedigree. He was a fifth-round pick out of a Mid-American Conference school, stuck behind a running back who will one day wear a yellow blazer into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Across four seasons in San Diego, Turner started only one game, and his career totals - 228 rushing attempts for 1,257 yards - would be less than an average season for LaDainian Tomlinson.
"I just wanted (to) make sure I was hanging in there, year in and year out, (making) it hard for teams to cut me, get rid of me," Turner said Wednesday on a conference call with Chicago reporters.
Given questions about his durability, the Atlanta Falcons staff watched every Turner carry on film. It convinced them to sign the unrestricted free agent in March to a six-year contract reportedly worth $34.5 million, with approximately $15 million guaranteed.
Weeks later the Bears (3-2) drafted Matt Forte and the running back has transformed their offense. The 244-pound Turner has done the same for Atlanta (3-2) and now leads the NFL in rushing. Both catalysts will be at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
"We wanted to have a guy that can run the ball between the tackles and also have the speed (to) take it the distance," first-year Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "Michael Turner fit that bill, even though there was a good class of running backs (in the draft). We felt Michael had not had a lot of wear and tear on his body in his first (four) years in the league.
"It became very evident to us that this is a guy that has extremely powerful legs, a low center of gravity. And over the last three years he's had three runs of 75 yards or more for touchdowns. So as we did our due diligence, we didn't think there was any concern about him being a feature back."
Turner's family would have liked to see him return to his North Chicago