- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. – James Franklin started out everywhere else but quarterback. Unable to be a ballcarrier in fifth grade due to weight restrictions in the youth league he played in (he weighed 185 pounds), he started out as a lineman.
For two years before he moved to Texas, he played offensive tackle, center and defensive end. Then he was a running back, linebacker, kicker, punter and began high school as a wide receiver until his junior year, when he finally moved to quarterback.
So his eventual path to college at Missouri and then the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Detroit Lions began as a big kid blocking for the position he would eventually play.
“I liked to eat,” Franklin said.
It was that circuitous route that actually helped make him an effective quarterback for the Tigers, including an appearance in the SEC title game this season. At first, he was more comfortable running the ball instead of throwing it so he became a dual-threat quarterback under Gary Pinkel with the Tigers even though he preferred to throw instead of run.
He completed 62.1 percent of his passes in college for 6,962 yards, 51 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. He also ran the ball 450 times for 1,729 yards and 21 touchdowns. So in some ways, he is not as polished as some of the other quarterbacks Detroit could have signed, guys who have played there their entire lives.
And it could be why Franklin is still working on his decisions, completion percentage and now, in his first week in the NFL, picking up a playbook with longer play names and some more intricacies. It is why he beat himself up over not always knowing the play and sometimes having to ask the coaches to repeat it for him so he could learn.
That’s somewhat expected, though, from a player who wasn’t drafted and has been here about a week.
“It’s taken me a while to pick up on those things,” Franklin said. “That was probably the thing I didn’t do the most and then, after I call the play, repeat it and what I’d just say. I’d just take too much time thinking about it instead of just going out there and playing.”
Franklin, though, is a bit different than the other quarterbacks Detroit has on its roster at this point. Even though he would prefer to be a pocket passer, he has mobility that Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore do not possess. And while he is not supplanting Stafford and likely not getting past Orlovsky, either, he does offer a different dynamic.
Jonathan Jennings, a quarterback from Saginaw Valley State that was brought in as a tryout player, is closer to Franklin than Stafford as well in terms of abilities.
Not that Detroit is looking for that, specifically.
“We’re not necessarily looking for a different mold,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “I mean, these two guys are guys that have been in a little bit more wide open kind of a scheme. Their legs are an important part of what they do, but I think you see that all across the board in our league now.
“You have to be able to make plays a number of different ways. Some guys make them in the pocket, some guys outside of the pocket. These two guys haven’t spent a whole lot of time underneath center. They’ve been shotgun more or less than anything else so they’re learning that part of it.”
They are learning a lot.
Franklin, though, chose to learn in Detroit. He said the Lions were the only team he spoke with and he signed fairly quickly after the draft. The adjustment is going on for all the rookies, but at quarterback -- where everything is more focused anyway -- Franklin is someone who is trying to pick up the most.
“Someone who expects more of himself than others may expect of him,” rookie receiver TJ Jones said. “When he makes a mistake, you can see he beats himself up more for it than the coaches might.
“Someone who wants to be great, who is going to make the receivers and the running backs around him and the offense around him great.”
He just has to reach that level himself first.