Stop me if you've heard this one before: Mike Smith says Michael Turner will get less carries in 2010.
Technically, that statement proved true in 2009. I say technically because despite major injuries, he got 178 carries, and if healthy the entire year probably would've exceed 300 carries easily. I also use carries as the marker here because Michael Turner isn't catching many passes, so touches doesn't carry the same weight as it would for, say, Reggie Bush.
"It depends how the game is going," Turner said. "If we're pounding teams really good, they're going to pull me out. Down in the fourth quarter, if it's close and tight, I'm pretty sure they're going to give me the ball to close out the game."
So based on that statement, and Mike Smith saying his workload will be monitored but that the situation is not concrete, you might assume he'll get a lower number of carries but will be asked to take on a heavy load in specific games. That sounds pretty cut and dry.
I don't really believe it is, though. The team rode Turner to 11 wins in 2008, with 376 glorious carries. Last year, based on his insistence on playing and some rare terrible judgment from Smith, he insisted on getting back in the game on multiple occasions when he was clearly too ailing to do so. It was a statement on the part of Turner, a burp of the fire in his belly that says you're not taking him off the damn field unless he says so.
So you'll forgive me if I'm skeptical about his chances of going well below 300 carries. For all the talk of Jason Snelling getting better, he's similar enough to Turner that the team isn't going to spell the big guy with his younger counterpart often. Jerious Norwood is an entirely different kettle of fish, someone who can hit a home run or catch a pass but no longer seems able to run between the tackles for any length of time. When it comes to the running game, Turner's it. I'm dubious that the Falcons trust Matt Ryan enough to have him carry the team.
As a longtime Falcons fan, maybe I'm just trained to look for the dark cloud lurking behind every rainbow. Whether it's my mentality or a legitimate concern, I do have to worry a little bit about Turner. Those nagging leg injuries that sapped so much playing time from him are just that—nagging—and could re-surface. Without Turner, there's a lot more pressure put on the passing game, which should be better but may still not be poised to lead this team to victory week in and week out. Whether that's an indictment of Matt Ryan, the talent surrounding him or just the nature of the teams we're up against is up for debate, but I do believe it's true.
So personally, I'd really like to see Smith and Turner do more than pay lip service to this idea. If the game is on the line, Turner should absolutely be used in whatever way will help the Falcons win. If it's not, and he's still getting 25 carries, then a team that has shown a willingness to adapt and change will have shown it isn't learning much at all.