AUBURN, Ala. — John Franklin III might be new to Auburn, but his confidence certainly doesn’t show any hint that he’s unfamiliar with the territory.
The junior college transfer, one of three quarterbacks vying to be the starter when the Tigers open the season Sept. 3 against Clemson, was asked if he would be surprised if coaches announced before the summer that they had decided on a starter: Franklin.
“No, I wouldn’t be surprised,” the dual-threat quarterback said. “I told y’all before I got here, I came here for one goal, one reason and one reason only. That’s still my goal and that’s still the objective for me. I feel like I’m really in the mix now, especially now that I’m starting to pick up stuff quicker than they thought. It’s just going to get easier for me to run out; the more I run stuff, the easier it’s going to become.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn hasn’t gone as far to say he has a depth chart ready, though offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said two days before the A-Day game Saturday he had a pecking order in mind. Franklin has a big hill to climb, but it’s certainly not insurmountable. Jeremy Johnson and Sean White were not overly impressive in the spring game, and they both started their fair share of games last season, when the Tigers struggled to a seven-win season.
“I’m a competitor,” Franklin said. “I believe I’m going to be out there on Sept. 3 the first snap of the game. That’s the bottom line. That’s just how I operate. That’s the goal. That’s the objective for me. Nothing less.”
Why he should be the starter
Franklin has provided Auburn a fresh breath of air at quarterback, and while he wasn’t necessarily impressive at the A-Day scrimmage, the upside seems bigger for him than it does for Johnson and White. Plus, Franklin is the lone dual-threat quarterback on the roster capable of running 15-plus times a game if needed. The Tigers have not had that since Nick Marshall, who threw for 4,508 yards and rushed for 1,866 more while scoring 57 touchdowns in two seasons.
(Franklin, by the way, emulated Marshall when he was Florida State’s scout-team quarterback before the BCS National Championship)
“Nick and I have a good relationship,” Franklin said Saturday. “We talked the other night. He said just go out there and be yourself and do what you do the best. I feel we’re really similar in a lot of aspects of our game.”
Franklin showed noticeable improvement from the start of spring practices to the end of A-Day. One scrimmage included three consecutive turnovers, as reported by a person familiar with the closed-door practices. He was the only quarterback to be tackled in two scrimmages, showing the coaches’ wide-open mind to the idea of making Franklin the starter.
Johnson and White did not light the SEC ablaze last season. Johnson co-led the nation with six interceptions through the first three games of the season, and White threw only one touchdown pass in six starts. Plus, why would you bring a junior college quarterback to campus and not plan on at least playing him some at the position next season?
Why he shouldn’t be the starter
He played in a two-quarterback system at East Mississippi Community College and was not the starter. He completed less than 60 percent of his passes and wasn’t the most accurate passer. He apparently was a turnover machine early in the spring on routine plays, and while his arm is strong, it’s also inaccurate downfield at times.
The other issue to seriously consider is Franklin’s weight. He came to Auburn weighing 170 pounds, but says now he’s up to 185. That’s still too small, especially in the rough-and-tumble SEC. He’s already smallish in height (6-1), and playing on a thin frame does not make for a sustainable life as a running quarterback against SEC defensive lines. He hopes to bulk up to 195 pounds before the season, but consider this: Marshall, who many compared him to this spring, weighed 210 pounds during his time at Auburn.
He went 7-of-11 passing for 61 yards and one touchdown in the A-Day game, and his 40-yard touchdown throw to Marcus Davis took as much luck as it did arm strength: Freshman defensive back Javaris Davis misplayed the ball thrown into the gusty winds inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“You’re right. You don’t bring in a junior college guy in and not expect him to play. I can’t tell you what exactly he’s going to do at this point because he’s still in competition to be the starter. He is a guy that has shown he can handle things. He’s has some impact player ability so I would expect us find a way for him to help us regardless.”
— Rhett Lashlee, Auburn offensive coordinator
Coming Thursday: Why Jeremy Johnson should be the starting quarterback