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Turner ready to go
After offseason surgery, RB ready to contribute
Despite playing with an injured groin, Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner still led the NFC with 1,371 yards rushing. - photo by Associated Press

FLOWERY BRANCH — Michael Turner is giving himself a clean bill of health.

The two-time Pro Bowl running back played last season with an injured groin, but still led the NFC with 1,371 yards rushing.

Undergoing offseason surgery, which coach Mike Smith described as a minor procedure, caused Turner to spend the NFL lockout rehabbing, but he has reported no problems after three days of training camp.

“It was something that was there the whole time,” Turner said Sunday. “It was something I had to push through last year.”

Turner’s production last year was in line with his first two Atlanta seasons. He ran for 71 first downs, third-best in the league. His 694 yards rushing after contact ranked fourth.

Since the start of 2008, only Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (122) and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (116) have more rushes of 10 or more yards, but it’s possible Turner’s groin became more difficult to manage as the season wore on.

He averaged just 59 yards over the final four games, the last of which was a home blowout loss to Green Bay in the playoffs.

For Turner, who ran only 10 times for 39 yards, the fallout from that 48-21 defeat was hard to accept, but the eighth-year veteran likes the versatility planned for Atlanta’s offense this season.

After placing six offensive players in the 2010 Pro Bowl, the Falcons drafted receiver Julio Jones No. 6 overall, sending five draft picks, including a pair of first rounders, to Cleveland.

In the fifth round, Atlanta selected Jacquizz Rodgers, a 5-foot-6 running back who adds speed in the open field and gives quarterback Matt Ryan an elusive receiving target. Rodgers averaged 1,282 yards rushing and scored 46 touchdowns in three seasons at Oregon State.

“He’s small in stature,” Turner said of Rodgers. “It’s tough to judge him without many practices in pads, but from watching in college, he packs a punch to be that small. He’s got great foot speed and quickness, so he’s going to be another weapon.”

The Falcons missed a speedy threat in their backfield during the last two years with Jerious Norwood often injured and unable to play, but Pro Bowl fullback Ovie Mughelli believes Rodgers will blend in quickly and complement Turner’s pounding style.

“We have a lot of stability and we have a coaching staff that trusts us, so that we can put in all our plays fairly quickly,” Mughelli said. “So we’re getting into the meat of our offense faster than most teams. Having guys back who can produce and help lead these young guys is going to be vital moving forward. Jacquizz is going to be good. His tape from college is impressive, but we’ll have to see how that translates to the NFL.”

Atlanta returns four of five starters on the offensive line. Center Todd McClure and left tackle Sam Baker were already under contract. Right tackle Tyson Clabo and left guard Justin Blalock recently agreed to new deals but must wait until Thursday before they can practice.

Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey are emphasizing a return to more big plays for Turner, who earned the NFL nickname “Burner” in San Diego but had just one run over 16 yards in the last six games of 2010.

“I think that’s not just a specific problem or issue with our running back. When we have explosive plays, we’re getting blocks at the second level (of a defense),” Smith said. “It’s something we analyzed in the offseason. We have to do a better job of blocking downfield to spring us for those explosive plays. It’s on everybody.”

Turner agrees, but isn’t making any major declarations during the first week of camp. He’s just glad his groin is healthy and he’s feeling fresh.

“Our goals are still the same as a team,” he said. “It’s Super Bowl first and all that other stuff like the Pro Bowl can just fall in behind it.”

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