By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – By the statistics, James Franklin brings a different element to the quarterback position for the Detroit Lions. Known as a passer with considerable scrambling ability, Franklin rushed for 981 yards for Missouri his sophomore season and 510 his senior season.
Franklin, however, said he does not like to run.
“I like to throw the ball,” Franklin said, laughing at the reaction of surprised reporters as the perceived running quarterback gave his reasoning. “I switched over to quarterback my junior year in high school, I played receiver, so it’s just natural for me to run, so whenever things got a little cloudy, I’d just take off and run, but I like throwing the ball a lot better.”
Asked jokingly if he hated all those yards he racked up on the ground, Franklin chuckled again.
“I didn’t say I hated it, but I just felt more comfortable running the ball at that time,” Franklin said, “and as I got older, I tried to progress to be more comfortable throwing the ball.”
Especially since he has played quarterback far fewer years than most other passers – Franklin played offensive line, defensive line and all over the rest of the field growing up after beginning his football days as a 185-pound fifth grader – Franklin looks forward to learning from starter Matthew Stafford and backups Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore.
As far as evaluating himself in rookie minicamp, Franklin was far from charitable, saying he did okay but admitting it was something of a tough transition from the college game.
“The playcalling at Missouri, they’d signal it in,” Franklin said. “We wouldn’t have to call the whole thing because we were a no-huddle offense. They’d signal, ‘Duce right, mask right, bend,’ and that was it. So I’d just tell the line, ‘Mask right, mask right,’ and they’ll know the play. But here it’s like, ‘Weak right, 3-85 sticky X post Y shallow Z ,’ so it’s a little bit longer, and so it’s taking me a while to pick up on those things, and that was probably the thing I didn’t do the most, and then after I call the play, [you have to] repeat it, and then – ‘What’d I just say?’
“And so I was just taking too much time thinking about it instead of just going out there and playing,” Franklin continued. “The thing I didn’t like that I did this weekend, these last three days, is probably get the plays down better as far as calling them out, not having to think about them, but I really liked it. The guys were positive about it, all my teammates and stuff, whenever I kind of, ‘Ah,’ and have to go back to the coach for the play and get it again, they were really encouraging, and I really liked that.”
On Saturday, fellow rookie TJ Jones, a wide receiver, offered an endorsement of Franklin and confirmation of the quarterback’s obvious tendency to be tough on himself.
“He’s a great guy, a great player on the field, off the field, someone who I think expects more of himself than others may expect of him,” Jones said. “When he makes a mistake, you can see that he beats himself up more for it than the coaches might. Someone who wants to be great, who’s going to make the receivers and the running backs around him, and the offense in general great.”
When new head coach Jim Caldwell spoke about Franklin on Friday, he seemed impressed as well.
“Franklin is smart,” Caldwell said. “He’s a talented guy. He’s had a very good career. He was with a winner. He knows how to work extremely hard. Certainly, you can see it. If you get an opportunity to talk to him here before it’s all over with you will see he’s a very, very bright young man and he can grasp a lot of material quickly.”
Going undrafted disappointed Franklin, whose only free agent offer came from the Lions, but he attributed the apparent lack of interest from NFL teams to his performance rather than the injury that sidelined him for four games in 2013. While Franklin said the injury might have raised health concerns and taken him out of the spotlight, he said he could have done more.
“I missed four games this past season but I also came back,” Franklin said. “I could have had those last four games that I played after the injury to do really good, but I didn’t make the most of it, and so I think that’s probably where it hurt me the most, just not making the most of his opportunities.
“As far as quarterback play, some inconsistency,” Franklin added. “Had some yardage here and there, but as far as completion percentage and decision-making, I don’t think I did that good, and so that could have factored into it.”
The competition is open at backup quarterback for the Lions after veteran Shaun Hill left as a free agent in March.