Turner’s workload piling up

Michael Turner has heard it all and is well aware what others say: He gets too many carries. It will take a toll on his body. His production will decrease. It will catch up to him eventually.

The Falcons running back laughs at all of this.

“It doesn’t affect me,” Turner said. “Carries are carries. You can’t control the flow of the game. Different situations call for run plays. I just have to go out there and be ready every time my number is called. I’m not going to try to save myself, just to try to squeeze extra years out of this league.”

Turner signed with the Falcons as a free agent in 2008. He has been one of the top running backs in the NFL in his three years as a full-time player. He has rushed for 3,941 yards in his time with the Falcons, and only the Titans’ Chris Johnson (4,598) and the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson (4,441) have rushed for more.

Turner has done it despite injury. He missed five games in 2009 with an ankle problem. Last season, Turner played nearly the entire year with a groin injury, one that required surgery in the offseason.

Was it a problem? Turner led the NFL in rushing attempts and was third in the league, and first in the NFC, with 1,371 yards. He made his second Pro Bowl. His 12 rushing touchdowns tied Peterson for fourth in the NFL.

Turner’s 4.1 yards per carry was down from 2009 (4.9) and a drop from 2008 (4.5), the latter another Pro Bowl season with 1,699 yards and an NFL-leading 376 attempts.

“It’s just funny; your stats are down but you are a Pro Bowl starter. ... What do you want me to do?” he said. “I’m just going to go out there when my number is called. Coach is going to give me the ball, and I have to do something with it.”

Turner won’t use the groin injury as an excuse. However, he admitted he was in pain and the protective wrap limited his explosiveness. He wasn’t able to cut as sharply or as quickly. There were times when Turner ran out of bounds at the end of a play rather than take on an extra hit.

“I was surprised to hear he got it fixed in the offseason,” fullback Ovie Mughelli said. “I was like, ‘Oh, you weren’t 100 percent?’ If a guy with a groin situation can lead the NFC [in rushing], I’m scared to see what happens this year.”

The Falcons’ offseason mantra called for an increase in explosive plays. The team traded up to draft wide receiver Julio Jones, adding him to an offense that includes Pro Bowlers Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez and a healthy Harry Douglas. The running game could be in for some big gains.

In the past three seasons, Turner has 100 runs of 10 yards or more, third behind Johnson (122) and Peterson (116). Last season, he had 15 of the Falcons’ 20 rushes of 15 yards or more.

“We are a run-first mentality,” Turner said. “Explosive plays don’t necessarily come from the passing game. We want to run more explosive plays. I want to get that [number] up, too.

“With me being totally healthy, adding Julio [Jones], the other things we do on offense and with a healthy Harry Douglas, we have a lot of weapons on the field. Hopefully those dimensions open up things for me.”

Last season, Turner carried the ball 334 times, and he has 888 carries with the Falcons. In four seasons with the Chargers, as LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup, Turner had just 228 carries.

The carries don’t matter to Turner. Productivity does.

“I look at yards per carry, but I don’t look at it like I’m getting too many carries,” Turner said. “I look at it as far as my production. I need to keep my production up.”

Mughelli is eager to see would-be tacklers try to bring down a healthy Turner with arm tackles this season. Running backs coach Gerald Brown says Turner can easily carry the ball more than 300 times again. Coach Mike Smith expects more production.

“We were all aware of the situation that Michael was going through last year in terms of his groin,” Smith said. “To me, it just validates what kind of guy he is. He’s a tough guy. He’s not going to complain. He’s going to fight through injuries, do whatever he has to do.

“We think he’s in a better place this year than he was last year.”