Michael Turner has always had the label of a run-only back ever since his days with the Chargers, but since he's joined the Falcons his receptions have steadily risen since 2008.
Starting with six catches out of the backfield his first year with the Falcons, Turner ended 2011 with 17 catches, though he's never had a receiving touchdown. So far in this preseason the Falcons have worked on a variety of things in games, but the running game hasn't been one of those aspects of the offense that has seen a lot of time during live action.
This preseason Turner has rushed eight times for 14 yards, but in the preseason's second game, he caught three passes for 14 yards. Head coach Mike Smith said after the game that the team wanted to work on the passing game against the Bengals.
Turner says catching passes in the screen game for running backs is something they've been working on in practice and throughout camp. So far this season running backs and fullbacks have caught 12 passes. Turner is getting familiar with an increased pass-catching role this preseason under new coordinator Dirk Koetter.
"I'm comfortable with it," Turner said. "I've caught more passes than I have before last year. I'm just trying to get in the groove of things and getting accustomed to this offense."
Smith feels good about Turner's pass-catching ability even though he knows it was a "knock" against the running back before he came to Atlanta.
Despite the speculation that has swirled around Atlanta's offense becoming more open and pass-friendly this season, Smith said Turner and his running will remain a big part of what they're trying to accomplish on offense. More importantly, Smith said despite what direction the offense goes in one game to the next, Turner is still the featured running back for the Falcons.
"I think Mike is going to be an integral part of our offense," Smith said. "We have done some work in some different areas in the first two preseason games. Again, you're not game planning, you're trying to work on certain things. Michael is our No. 1 back and he's going to get his touches just like the other guys. It's going to be based on how people try to defend us."