SDUT: LT's caddie earns respect

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Staff member
Jun 20, 2005
Chula Vista, CA

Bullish Turner bounces off tacklers and gobbles up yardage in bid to turn heads

By Kevin Acee

December 9, 2005

K.C. ALFRED / Union-Tribune
Once in the open field, Michael Turner usually looks for someone to hit. He has two touchdowns in the past three weeks.
Joe Novak, the head football coach at Northern Illinois University, recalled that his program was the only one to offer Michael Turner a scholarship.

"And we weren't on him too much," Novak said.

Turner played high school football in an offensive system that did not utilize him much.

"He was kind of hidden," Novak said. "You wouldn't see much on tape. But then he'd make two or three runs and you'd go 'Wow!' "

The Chargers know the sensation.

"He's a monster," center Nick Hardwick said with a wide smile. "He brings in a whole different element. Guys hit him and they fall off."

While Turner's workload has increased more than twofold this season, he does not get too many chances to play for the Chargers. His job is to fill in for the man many consider the game's best running back.

When Turner does run, it is often a treat to watch.

Built like a boulder at 5 feet 10, 237 pounds – thick across the chest and back – he busts through tackles, his barrel-like legs churning nonstop. He has runs of 18, 15 and 14 yards among his 47 carries. He is averaging 4.7 yards per rush. And in the past three weeks he has scored his first two NFL touchdowns.

The first score was among the most entertaining scoring runs the Chargers have had this season. Taking a handoff on the 8, Turner powered a couple of tacklers, ran into his blocker and then got pushed into the end zone by guard Mike Goff.

"I like watching Michael," LaDainian Tomlinson said. "It is exciting. He runs so physical."

Turner takes advantage of the fact he enters games with fresh legs while defenders are tired.

"I'm going to make them feel it," he said. "I'm going to go all out. I don't know how long I'm going to be in there, so I'm not holding back nothing."

Turner also benefits from an understanding of what he is supposed to do.

"We're very comfortable with Michael Turner," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "He's an excellent change of pace to LaDainian. He runs extremely well behind his pads. People bounce off him. Ricochet off him."

Here's something else Schottenheimer said about Turner's running style: "He has excellent patience."

Turner, whose 35 score on the Wonderlic test at the 2004 combine was the second-highest among running backs, knows he'll have to exhibit patience off the field as well.

He does, of course, have bigger plans for the future.

"You shouldn't be playing if you don't want to be a starter," Turner said. "You never know what's going to happen. I just know I'm going to be starting somewhere."

It's in the back of his mind every time he runs.

"I'm trying to prove this is not a fluke," he said. "I want to prove every time I'm in there I can do good."

There is always the question of whether a backup can make the transition to full-time player. Turner points to his Northern Illinois-record 940 career rushes that produced 4,941 yards, 13th-most all-time in the NCAA.

"I had 52 carries in one game," he said. "I can handle a load week in and week out."

Teammates, however, have noticed Turner's commitment to the here and now. In addition to being on call at running back, Turner plays on three special teams.

"He understands his role," quarterback Drew Brees said. " . . . Michael Turner is one of the reasons why I feel this team is so special. It's his mind-set, his role coming in being able to do the job on offense and in a special teams role. We have quite a few guys like that. That's why this team is a good one or a great one."