Turner Provides Valuable Versatility

Posted Nov 21, 2012

With marquee free agent addition Scott Wells returning to the active roster and potentially reclaiming his starting center job this week, the short term job for his replacement, Robert Turner, is to be determined.

For most, that make things difficult but for Turner, it’s essentially a return to normal for he’s spent the first part of his career working as a valued, versatile lineman capable of filling in just about everywhere.

“I think that’s why they brought me in,” Turner said. “I don’t think it was necessarily to be the starter at any position but it was to have the versatility to cover stuff if somebody got dinged up or if I needed to start or whatever the situation may be.”

What Turner has actually given the Rams this season goes well beyond working as a serviceable backup with the primary task of filling in at any of the three interior positions.

Instead, for the first time in his career, Turner has been fed a healthy dose of starting opportunities. In fact, he’s started all 10 games for the Rams this year, five times as many as he’d started at any point in his previous three years and 41 games.

And Turner has proved to be more than capable of stepping in and getting the job done. According to coach Jeff Fisher, Turner’s been one of the key pieces to the offensive line all season long.

“Rob has filled right in from the get go,” Fisher said. “He’s run things up front with Sam. He’s keeping everybody calm and makes the calls and adjustments so he’s done a nice job. It’s great that he’s got versatility to play center and guard.”

That versatility was one of the initial reasons the Rams signed Turner to a free-agent contract on March 31, after he spent his first three seasons with the New York Jets. It was in New York that Turner played for Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.

When Schottenheimer came to St. Louis, adding Turner to the mix for his knowledge of the system along with the aforementioned versatility made it something of a no-brainer.

“We felt and the reason we brought him in here was because of Schotty’s experience with him,” Fisher said. “And we knew that he was that kind of guy (who could play well).”

Upon signing his contract with the Rams, Turner was well aware of what he was getting in to.

“That’s kind of how my career has been up to this point,” Turner said. “That’s what I did in New York and I think that’s why Coach Schottenheimer felt comfortable and wanted to bring me in because they knew I could do multiple things and predicated on how everything fell throughout the season, I can cover most of the positions up there. I think that’s primarily why they brought me in. It’s just an adjustment. You have adjustments each week; I am just treating it like another adjustment.”

Turner’s versatility took little time to reveal itself. With Wells dealing with an offseason knee surgery and then taking time away to go through the adoption process for his three children from Uganda, Turner filled in right away in the middle of the offensive line.

For most of the offseason program and into training camp, Turner played center in Wells’ stead. When Wells finally returned near the end of the preseason and heading into the season opener in Detroit, Turner ceded the spot and slid seamlessly over to left guard, where he started against the Lions.

That isn’t to say that just anybody could make that move without any hiccups. When asked what are some of the biggest challenges to moving back and forth between the inside positions, Wells runs off a laundry list that includes different calls, a different stance, working in different space, changed blocking angles and aiming points among the numerous differences.

“It’s playing the offensive line and it’s still blocking,” Turner said. “It’s still executing but the way you go about doing that is completely different so there’s an adjustment there.”

Because of his history playing multiple positions, it hasn’t been easy for Turner to settle in at a position and really take ownership of it. The closest he’s come to that has been the past nine games, starting in the middle.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice to stay somewhere for an extended period of time,” Turner said. “But Scott coming back is a big lift and we are going to put the five best guys out there and regardless of what that lineup is, that’s what we are going to roll with and everybody else is going to be ready to go when they are called upon.”
Wells returned to the practice field as a member of the active roster for the first time on Wednesday after recovering from a foot injury and Fisher said this week that his status for Sunday’s game against Arizona would be determined after he practices this week. He did participate fully in Wednesday’s practice.

If Wells is able to return to the starting lineup, the possibility remains that Turner will again slide out to left guard and give the Rams the starting front five they envisioned when the season started and before injuries hit. 

The humble Turner knows that nothing is guaranteed in this league but does believe he’s done everything possible to state a case for remaining in the lineup. And if he doesn’t, that’s OK too.

“I feel like I have made the most of it but it’s up to our coaches to determine who the starters are,” Turner said. “If they feel better going with Shelley then obviously I am going to respect that and that being said, I understand there is another role there. There is backing up different spots, being able to play multiple spots, guys get dinged up. That’s a fact of this league.”

In other words, it’s all but a foregone conclusion that at some point, whether it’s as a starter or a backup this week, Turner’s services are going to be needed again.

Considering how Turner performed and what he has brought to the table in his brief stay with the Rams, having him in the lineup is a welcome addition no matter where it is.

“Rob has done a great job,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “Obviously he’s been in this system for a long time. It’s a tough position to step in to, especially when you start at guard and then having to move back to center. I think he’s done a tremendous job stepping in and just taking over that leadership role on the offensive line.”