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Thursday, October 10, 2013
Does Franklin have a fumbling problem?

By Rob Demovsky

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers running backs coach Alex Van Pelt doesn’t consider rookie Johnathan Franklin to be a fumbler.

The evidence suggests otherwise.

Franklin has coughed the ball up in each of the past two games. His most recent one, which was recovered by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Sunday’s 22-9 win against the Detroit Lions, earned him a spot on the bench for the rest of the game.

Or did it?

AP Photo/Tom Uhlman
Green Bay's Johnathan Franklin will likely serve as the No. 2 running back against Baltimore.
Van Pelt said no. He said Thursday that Franklin didn’t play the rest of the game on offense because running back Eddie Lacy, who finished with 99 yards, was on a roll.

“I didn’t say, ‘Hey, you’re done for the rest of the game because you put the ball on the ground,’ because I don’t think he’s that guy,” Van Pelt said Thursday. “If he’s carrying it loosely and swinging it around and it’s out all the time, then that’s a different story, and you’re not going to be out on the field, but I think he does take care of the ball.”

Franklin’s two fumbles were nearly identical. Both times, the ball came loose when a defender got a helmet on the ball. His first one, in Week 3 against Cincinnati, was a killer. It came on a fourth-and-1 run in the fourth quarter with the Packers leading 30-27. A first down at that point might have sealed the game. Instead, Bengals cornerback Terence Newman returned the fumble for the game-winning touchdown with 3:47 remaining.

It spoiled an otherwise impressive debut. After not seeing a snap from scrimmage in the first two games, Franklin rushed for 103 yards -- all in the second half -- against the Bengals.

“I don’t consider him a careless ball guy,” Van Pelt said. “He takes care of the football in practice; he always has. It just happened to happen two weeks in a row. He knows it’s unacceptable, and we can’t have it.”

Van Pelt said Franklin had the ball tucked away high and tight on his fumble against the Lions, but didn’t have his opposite hand covering the ball, likely because Franklin didn’t see defensive tackle Ziggy Ansah until it was too late.

But Franklin, a fourth-round pick from UCLA, had fumbling problems in college. According to a story in the Los Angeles Times, Franklin fumbled 18 times in his first three seasons with the Bruins, but coughed it up only once as a senior. In order to fix the problem, he carried a ball with him wherever he went -- even to bed.

“It’s all about practice,” Franklin said. “Coach will call on me whenever he’s ready, but until then, it’s all about what I do in practice. I have to keep it high and tight and place an emphasis on it.”

Sure enough, Franklin spent extra time on the field after practice working on ball security drills this week.

It remains to be seen whether Franklin will be part of the game plan on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Lacy is expected to start, but with veteran James Starks still sidelined because of a knee injury, Franklin likely will be the No. 2 back.

“He has a great work ethic, and I’m confident he’ll get it right,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.