AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football coaches who once played for the Tigers like to tell their players they know what they’re going through on the Plains.
But for Auburn wide receiver coach Kodi Burns, that carries more weight when he talks to the newest addition to his position group — former quarterback John Franklin III. That’s because Burns, like Franklin, moved from dual-threat quarterback to wide receiver late in his Auburn career.
“I think it’s a really good situation for myself and John to really see eye to eye,” Burns said. “Just to come into this thing and say, ‘Dude, look. I get it, man.’ You’re coming from quarterback to receiver, I went through some of the same things. I can really mentor him and coach him up, and understand that he’s a big-time athlete.”
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Auburn’s second-year wide receiver coach arrived at Auburn in 2007 as a highly touted quarterback prospect. He started eight games at quarterback before moving to wide receiver in his junior season, following the arrival of Gene Chizik as head coach and his current boss, Gus Malzahn, as offensive coordinator.
Burns caught passes from junior college transfer Chris Todd in 2009 before doing the same in 2010 with Cam Newton. He finished his Auburn career with a 35-yard touchdown reception in the Tigers’ 2010 BCS National Championship Game win over Oregon.
While the situations might be the same, Burns thinks Franklin is a better fit at wide receiver than he was during his playing days.
“John is a guy that can flat-out run, but his ability to have natural hands, I think, is probably one of the most impressive things,” Burns said. “Like me, moving positions, I didn’t have natural hands. I really had to teach myself how to catch. I thought I could catch, but I couldn’t.”
Franklin’s full-time move to wide receiver became official last week. However, Burns said he had several conversations with the speedy athlete about changing roles during the past year.
“He came to me and said, ‘Hey coach, I want to help the team out and play some receiver,’” Burns said. “Just sitting down and having personal conversations one-on-one, letting him know that I’ve been through some of the same things, I think he gets it.”
Franklin entered spring practice as part of Auburn football’s massive quarterback battle, one led by transfer Jarrett Stidham and former starter Sean White. The Florida native, who played quarterback in all 13 games last season and started one contest, told reporters in January he planned to stay as a signal caller.
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Coaches and players say Franklin has made a smooth transition to wide receiver. He caught a touchdown pass in Auburn’s first scrimmage of the spring last Saturday.
While Franklin’s technique and route running need to be refined during the next few months, Burns likes what he sees out of the former quarterback — his speed, his hands and, most importantly, his attitude.
“I think he gets it,” Burns said. “I don’t think that he’s one of those guys I have to pull aside. No, he gets it. I think John’s all in. He loves Auburn and he’s willing to do whatever he can to help the team.”