Looking at James Franklin’s 2011 season, you’d think he could do it all.
Missouri’s quarterback enjoyed a sophomore season that included 2,865 passing yards, 981 rushing yards and 36 total touchdowns. He was the definition of a dual-threat quarterback and enters his first season as an SEC quarterback with recognition surrounding him.
But Franklin admits he can’t do everything. And one thing he needs to learn how to do particularly well is something he’s struggling with.
James Franklin is sliding impaired.
“I’m pretty sure I’m not very good at it,” Franklin said with a laugh.
For as fleet footed and nimble as Franklin looked in his first season as Missouri’s starter, he admits he’s never attempted to slide. Even with the nine injuries he said he suffered in 2011, his body just wouldn’t allow him to slide. The swollen knee and broken fingers weren’t a big enough hint.
Franklin ran with reckless abandon last season, but knows he has to change his ways now that he’s in the SEC.
“I’ve heard a lot of people use the phrase, ‘7 feet tall and breathe fire,’” Franklin said when describing SEC defenders. “The first thing that comes to mind is that they’re big, tough, physical defenders.”
And they love to swallow up runners, whether they're running backs or quarterbacks. So, Franklin decided that in order to survive the SEC, he’s going to have to cut the unnecessary shots he takes. That means getting to the ground as fast as he can when one of those monstrous defensive ends or linebackers charge his way.
Franklin said he first came to this realization when watching tape of SEC defenses last year. It was there that he saw the SEC’s ability to shutdown the run. It wasn’t that the formations were much different than what he’d seen in the Big 12, but the players were bigger, faster, stronger and they didn’t particularly care for quarterbacks.
“They’re not just big, they’re big and athletic,” he said.
Aside from figuring out sliding, Franklin said he wants to rely more on his arm this season, hoping it lessens the blows he’ll take, as well.
Truth be told, Franklin doesn’t really care for running. In fact, he’d prefer to sit in the pocket and throw, but he said he wasn’t confident enough in his passes last year to do that.
Franklin said when he struggled to believe in his passing ability it got him in trouble. It didn’t just take a toll on his body; it forced him to make poor decisions. One game that stands out is Mizzou’s 24-10 win against Kansas. On that particularly windy day, Franklin said he didn’t trust himself to make the big throws going into the wind. So he got a little gun shy and floated his way to three interceptions.
“I should have known I couldn’t throw a 40- or 50-yard pass into the wind unless it was a perfect spiral,” Franklin said.
Instead of finding the easier passes, his mind got jumbled and he became frantic. Without any confidence behind his throws, the longer ones tended to sail.
This spring, Franklin is looking to handcuff his scrambling persona and stick to stepping up and throwing in the pocket. He’s enhancing his footwork and studying his plays more in order to get his timing precise.
Franklin only wants to run when he absolutely has to, but he has to anticipate more on the field and trust his ability. Without it, he could turn into a human piñata.
When Franklin does have to run, Franklin just wants to be safe.
“I’m not trying to run anyone over or anything, but I do want to be smarter with my running,” he said. “Instead of trying to run them over and fail, maybe not necessarily curl up, but go down. I’ll still get hit, but I’m already going down, so the shot isn’t as bad.”
Franklin said he wants to get his weight to the 230-235 range in order to withstand punishing hits.
Franklin also expects some offensive changes to be made as the season goes on, but he doesn’t see many before hand. He said coach Gary Pinkel wants to keep things ordinary and not put too much new stuff on his players’ plates. Missouri will predominantly be a spread team, but does use some pro sets, which will help.
It’ll be a work in progress at some points, Franklin said, but he’s excited for the challenge. He’s already hearing some preseason praise but knows it’s tempered by his Big 12 past.
He agrees that it should be. He understands that the two conferences are different and the SEC will be harder. But he wants to take that kind of criticism and turn it into fuel.
Franklin said he hopes it adds some confidence that he says he lost at times last year.
“I would like to have a little chip on my shoulder to get more confidence in my game and that’s something I’ll definitely be working on,” he said.