Maryland OC Franklin breaks down offense in second spring
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
James Franklin is entering his second season as Maryland's offensive coordinator, and during the offseason, he added the title of head-coach-in-waiting. With the exception of veteran quarterback Chris Turner, Franklin has a young offense to work with this spring. He's excited, though, about its potential and the fact most of the players are more comfortable now with the system.
Here are the highlights of our recent interview:
How are things going for you in the second season with this offense and the guys and the comfort level?
James Franklin: Obviously I'd like to have a little more depth and experience on the o-line, but we've got one of the better line coaches in the country in Tom Brattan. We were talking the other day, although we're young and inexperienced, we're so much further along than we were last year, and that's me, that's the other assistant coaches, that's the players -- everybody involved is so much further along. I have a better feel for what Ralph (Friedgen) wants, I have a better feel for our personnel and what our strengths and weaknesses are. Just the second year being here and developing our philosophy offensively, I've got a much better feel. And really all the assistant coaches do as well.
That's been the thing that's been pretty exciting. There's been more recall, even players that haven't played before, they've still heard these things before. They've heard concepts before. I'm excited about it, especially the fact we have a returning starting quarterback coming back. That helps as well. I'm excited I think it's a really good situation. It's been extremely competitive. The new defensive coordinator we have and what he's doing in practice every day, Ralph is creating a very competitive situation in practice every day. I think we have a chance to be pretty good on both sides of the ball.
Do you feel like people are going to be watching the offense a little more closely this year, now that you've been named head coach in waiting?
JF: That's probably a natural component of this situation. I would say that's probably going to happen, but I'm really not concerned about it. If we do the things that we're supposed to do, we'll be fine, and everybody will be excited and feel good about the future of Maryland football. That's really not a concern of mine. What we have to do is the best job we possibly can with our team and the players we have and make sure we're headed in the right direction and continue to evolve and grow. As long as we do that, I think people will be very pleased.
Is it something you've been talking about now to recruits now that it's all said and done?
JF: Well, to be honest with you, we haven't really been talking about it. It's more from the standpoint it's something that's not talked about. In the past, you'd always have to answer the question of how much longer is Ralph going to be here, and we hear he only has two or three years left on his contract. So instead of there being the conversation about the uncertainly of the program, it's really not brought up anymore. I would say it's the opposite. Rather than people talking about me being the next head coach, it's really just left conversations about what the future holds and how much longer Ralph's going to be here.
How did the scrimmage go on Saturday?
JF: It went OK. It was your typical first scrimmage of spring ball, especially with the young offensive line, but I thought it went fairly well. Chris Turner is doing well. We know what Da'Rel Scott can do. The biggest thing that stands out to me is our new defensive coordinator, and the scheme that we're running. I think our kids are excited about it. We're extremely aggressive. It's a difficult scheme to deal with. Our kids are really enjoying playing in it. That's the main thing that stands out to me right now.
How high are your expectations for Chris this year, give he's a veteran and one of the few senior quarterbacks in the league?
JF: We've been watching him on tape and watching him at practice so far this spring, and the biggest thing I look at, is that there are a probably a lot of teams in this league that would want Chris Turner to be their starting quarterback next year. He's a veteran guy, the game has slowed down for him, he's poised, he's bigger and stronger than people realize. He's been there, done that. Just meeting with him this spring, I know he's so much more confident and so much more relaxed because everything is a review for him, whereas last year was his first year in the offense. We're in year two now. I asked him how he was doing, and he said, 'instead of everything being brand new, it's a review for me now.' He just feels so much more confident, and you can see that. He's going to have to play well, obviously, because we're young and inexperienced at some other positions, but if I had to choose where I'd want to be young at -- the o-line or quarterback -- I'd probably pick the o-line. At least with a veteran quarterback, hopefully the ball is coming out faster and he's making decisive decisions. I think that's going to help us.
Where do you think he's made the most progress?
JF: I think more than anything is, at the quarterback position you have to know what you're doing, where you're going with the ball and why. You have to know the plays and the system inside and out. Last year he knew it fairly well, but it wasn't second nature to him. That's probably the biggest thing now is it's just so much more comfortable for him. His arm looks stronger, his arm probably is a little stronger because it's his second hear and he's bigger and stronger. I think even more than that, he's so much more confident about where he's going with the ball, and he's in rhythm, so he can set and really drive the ball more. I see him so much more comfortable in so many different aspects.
You guys obviously lost one of the best receivers in the conference in Darrius Heyward-Bey, but there seems to be a buzz about the young guys on the roster. What can you tell fans about the young receivers he might be throwing to?
JF: I think even last year we had depth at the wide receiver position. Danny Oquendo, although he had a great career here and played well Ronnie Tyler got in behind him and played very well as a freshman. It wasn't like it was just Danny Oquendo doing it last year. Isaiah Williams was the starter at X, and then as the year went on, Torrey Smith became the starter at the X position. There's another guy who's played significantly, and then at Z, Darrius has played and played well, obviously over the last two to three years here at Maryland, but once again, we had other guys who played. Right now, the way we're doing it, we've got Torrey at X, Ronnie at the slot, what we call F, and then at the Z we have Emani Lee-Odai, who has played on and off for two years here. So it's not like these guys left and no one has played. All of these guys have played significant roles, and we're expecting big things for them. Right now, this spring, they haven't played as consistently as I would've liked, but think they will. I don't think they're used to being the guys. They have to get a little more comfortable in that role.
Kevin Dorsey, the receiver, I've heard a lot of really good things about him. Has he been playing well this spring?
JF: He's another guy we signed and redshirted last year. Last year he sat out the whole year with an injury. He's still not a hundred percent but probably has the best ball skills on our team. If the ball's around him, he's going to catch it. He's a big, physical guy. If we can get him 100 percent healthy, he runs well, he's a guy I can see pushing either Emani Lee for the starting Z position or pushing Tori for the starting X position. But he's going to play a significant role and Tony Logan, another highly recruited guy out of New York, that's playing well right now for us. He started at punt return for Oquendo in the bowl game and did very well, so they're two young guys who are doing very well for us. But Dorsey obviously is doing very well. (Kerry) Boykins is the other guy I was thinking about in the slot. He and Ronnie Tyler are playing in the slot together, but you're right, Dorsey's had a strong spring and I think is going to continue to do well.
What happened to him? What was his injury?
JF: He had a toe issue very similar to what Grant Hill had, it was basically a prolonged, almost turf toe type of condition. He had it his senior year in high school and it never really went away, so he had to have surgery on it. I think the surgery has gone well. He feels better than he's probably felt in three years right now, but he's still not 100 percent.
Tell me a little bit about your offensive line. It seems like center would be a big question mark, but how is everything else looking?
JF: Well center really is not the question mark. It's probably the most solidified position on the offense. Phil Costa has played guard for two years and has been Edwin's backup for two years and has played the position in games and in practice, so that's not an issue. An issue would be depth at the center position. We don't really have a proven backup yet to him, but I do think we have a legitimate all-ACC center in Phil Costa. And then the rest of the positions, obviously the two guard positions, we've got three guys right now that are in a pretty good battle for those positions -- Lamar Young, Andrew Gonnella and Justin Lewis. Justin ended up redshirting last year. But that's three guys that are competing pretty good for the two guard spots. And then the tackle position obviously we have Bruce Campbell and feel good about him, but the other tackle position and a backup is a little bit of an area of concern. Paul Pinegar has played the last couple of years as a backup for us and we have a freshman named R.J. Dill, and those guys are doing fairly well. We've got a kid by the name of Tyler Bowen, who has been injured for the last year and a half. If he comes back and comes on for us, that would really help us.
What's lingering there that you know isn't going to be solidified until summer camp?
JF: Probably the offensive line. We feel pretty good at tight end. Matt Furstenburg is a guy that's coming on really well for us. We redshirted him last year. He's had one of the better springs for us, and is really pushing Lansford Watson for the starting job. Lansford played a significant amount of time last year, so those two guys, Tommy Galt has played sporadically throughout his career as well, and Devonte Campbell, who was a highly recruited kid. So that gives us four guys at tight end we feel pretty good about. But I think the o-line, there's probably going to be two guys that are going to come in as true freshmen and at least need to be in the two deep for us at least as backups, and try to do what we did with Justin Lewis, that they're there if we need them, but we can hold them and redshirt them. That's probably what we'd like to do. But that's probably the position we're still going to need to have more time to get that position ready to go, and have those guys get comfortable playing together. That's just as much a part of it as anything, those guys playing together and knowing who they're working with and why and the communication and all those things.