Kane County Chronicle
Tuesday, January 15, 2008 Bears should take run at San Diego's Turner
by Kevin Kaduk
The Chargers’ season isn’t over, the NFL free agency period won’t begin until March 3 and Cedric Benson still has two years left on his contract.
No wonder Jerry Angelo and the Bears haven’t publicly been specific on their plans for the running back position in 2008. It’s still too early and no team is allowed to flip its cards before the previous hand is finished.
Still, it’d be incredibly disappointing to learn that Michael Turner’s name isn’t privately listed atop a blackboard somewhere in Halas Hall. It’d be even more disheartening to learn that Turner’s name isn’t buzzing around the front of Angelo’s brain or that Lovie Smith watched San Diego’s win against Indianapolis on Sunday without having his heart skip at least one beat.
When it comes to important off-season moves, one stands out above the rest: The Bears must make it their top priority to sign Turner, the backup running back from Northern Illinois who just helped lead the Chargers into the AFC Championship Game. While signing a new quarterback is a sexier option for some fans, the reality is that Smith’s crew will never return to its previous playoff shape if it doesn’t resume the practice of “getting off the bus running.”
You might remember that Smith rammed that philosophy down our throats on several occasions last season. The only problem was that his rushing unit rarely rammed the ball past any opponents. Benson was a bust, and then he got hurt. If you had a dime for all the times Benson failed to get through a sizable hole for a big gain last season, you’d have enough to buy the flighty Texas product out of his contract.
Meanwhile, his replacement, “the other” Adrian Peterson, did an adequate job but not enough to shed his career backup label. Third-round pick Garrett Wolfe rarely saw the field and isn’t big enough to be an every-down running back in the NFL, anyway.
That’s why the Bears need to sign Turner, even if it means admitting they wasted the No. 4 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft on Benson. Angelo and Smith aren’t known for owning up to their mistakes, so such an action would be a big move.
But it sure would be well worth it. If you watched the Chargers’ 28-24 victory at the RCA Dome, you’re probably already a part of this choir. Turner entered the game after LaDainian Tomlinson bruised his knee in the first half and then didn’t miss a beat. He rushed a season-high 17 times for 71 yards and also provided good pass protection for backup quarterback Billy Volek on the game-winning drive.
More importantly, he showed the combination of power and speed that made him a record-setter in DeKalb and that the Bears’ offense sorely needs.
There isn’t a downside to this. Though Turner could have allowed his talents to devolve while sitting behind LT, he instead worked to save his team’s playoff run before becoming one of this off-season’s top free agents. Since he carried the ball only 71 times for 316 yards in ’07, the Bears will be signing a guy without a history of wear and tear.
Also, if you saw tiny Darren Sproles spring a 56-yard screen pass for a touchdown, it’s not hard to picture Turner forming a similar 1-2 punch with Wolfe, a former Huskie teammate.
Admittedly, the Bears need to improve their offensive line, but they can do so with a quieter free-agent signing or through the draft. The only obstacle would be making sure another rush-hungry team, such as Atlanta or Cleveland, doesn’t throw more money at Turner’s feet.
And while that might be a distinct possibility given the Bears’ sometimes stingy ways, they can’t afford to let it happen. Turner is a hometown kid with hometown ties. They can’t bungle this like they did the Antwaan Randle El signing a few years back.
When I talked with Turner before the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl, he said his brothers and friends were always begging him to come back to Chicago and play for the Bears at Soldier Field. One can only imagine how much they’re pleading now.
So when the time is right, it should go without saying. The Bears need to reveal the right hand, one that includes Turner as its trump card.
• Kevin Kaduk is the Chronicle’s sports columnist. Write to him at email@example.com
For more, read his blog, “Duk’s Calls,” at KCChronicle.com/kaduk.