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Bobby Turner Discusses Drafting Running Backs

Posted by Matt Terl on April 14, 2011 – 9:30 am

Redskins running back coach Bobby Turner sat down with Larry Michael for a fairly lengthy interview for Redskins Nation on Comcast SportsNet. It started airing yesterday and continues through the weekend; you can watch parts one and two on Redskins.com, and read Redskins.com intern Brian Tinsman’s take on one interesting facet of the interview right here.

by Brian Tinsman

After the release of Clinton Portis, the Redskins are without a tested starter at running back, making that position a possible target in the draft. Assistant Head Coach/Running Backs Bobby Turner recently had a chance to sit down with Larry Michael on Redskins Nation to discuss the upcoming draft in terms of running backs.

Turner has a reputation as a running backs guru from his time with the Denver Broncos, where, in a 15-year span, he coached six largely unheralded running backs (Tatum Bell, Terrell Davis, Reuben Droughns, Clinton Portis, Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary) to over 32,000 rushing yards and 11 collective 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

The key to Turner’s success has come in the NFL Draft, where the Broncos selected five out of those six backs. Of those five, none were first round picks, but two were sixth round picks, including the great Terrell Davis. Clearly, Coach Turner knows what to look for.

“We’re looking for talent,” he told Michael. “I’m looking for the next Terrell Davis. We’re talking about a guy in the late rounds that can produce and help you win World Championships year in and year out.”

If that sounds easier said than done, that’s because it is.
The average career of an NFL running back is the shortest of any position: 2.57 years. At the start of last season, the Redskins featured a group that averaged 6.33 years. Unsurprisingly, the wheels fell off due to injury and Turner’s group finished 30th in the league in rushing yards.

Once again, Turner is looking to the draft for a remedy. The league has moved to a running-back-by committee approach, but Turner said he’s not looking for a role player. He wants a back that can “be productive-play every snap.”

“And the key thing is also-without getting into the physical tools that you’re looking for-is a player coachable?” he said. “The bottom line is that there has to be a trust level. You know, and that he believes in himself, and he believes in us.”

For some draft pundits and coaches, level of competition in college determines how NFL-ready you are. Don’t count Turner among the disciples of this philosophy.

“It doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “It never has, as far as level. If you’re instinctive, you’re instinctive. If you can play, you can play. If you’ve got heart, you’ve got heart.”

Turner later added, “We’re looking for that type of player in the later rounds.”

So what does that mean for the Redskins on draft day? It likely means that you won’t be buying a burgundy and gold jersey for a top running back prospect like Alabama’s Mark Ingram. Turner and Shanahan-coached teams have never selected a running back higher than the second round, which could put them in line for Virginia Tech’s Ryan Williams or Illinois’s Mikel Leshoure. However, the draft pool for running backs gets much deeper in the middle rounds. With other position needs to address, don’t expect the Redskins to reach for a back early if there isn’t one that fits Turner’s mold.

When Larry Michael asked him about his excitement for this draft’s prospects, Turner was coyly optimistic. “Oh, definitely, definitely,” he said. “And it’s not one [prospect], and I’m not gonna say it’s 10. You never know. If I knew, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

But don’t mistake his poker face for contentment. Bobby Turner is dedicated to retooling and upgrading the rushing attack of the Redskins this upcoming season.

“I’m never complacent,” he said. “Of course I’ve got a guy that I’m working for in Coach Shanahan that’s never gonna let me be complacent.”

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