The New Guys: Franklin Part II

In the second of a three-part series with new Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, the new maestro details his philosophy on wide receivers, the run game and quarterbacks.

READ PART 1 HERE

If you don't perform, you won't have a job tomorrow. That's the way new California offensive coordinator Tony Franklin lives his life. That's how he coaches his teams. That's what he's bringing to Berkeley.

"Well, it's been true everywhere I go," Franklin says. "I never think that anybody has a job -- just like me. I don't have a job unless I go out and I perform. I've been fired, and if I don't do my job, I'll be fired again, and players need to understand how the real world is. In the real world, what you've done in the past really doesn't make much difference. It's what you do today.

Rare is the college or professional athlete who has never spoken some iteration of the old stand-by, "taking it one game at a time." With Franklin, it's a way of life.

"The one thing we'll tell our players is that the most important play is the next play," he says. "It's not the one that you just played; it's the next play. When you're a football player, and you ever get lackadaisical and you think that, ‘Shoot, I've been a starter, so this is my deal; I don't have to do this, I don't have to do that; I've got some time built up,' you don't win football games that way."

As soon as Franklin arrived in Berkeley, his first meeting with the offense started with a recitation of that philosophy, and he used two exemplars to drive that point home: Peyton Manning and Jerry Rice.

"They both used to say that every single day, they felt threatened," says Franklin. "They felt like somebody was coming to take their job, and I think that's what's made those guys so phenomenal, because every day, they're fighting for their job."

No one is safe. No one can rest on any laurels. Every single player is starting from the same spot: Square One. When Franklin met with the offense that first day, he made that point with a bit of performance art. It's fine and all to say that no one has a job, but he made sure that message hit home.

"There's somebody that wants my job right now, and there's someone in those meetings that wants their job," says Franklin. "I do a thing with walk-ons -- I have them all stand up, and I tell everybody to look at them, and I say, ‘Just so you know, one of these guys that's standing up right here is going to take somebody else's job that's on scholarship, that's sitting down. You walk-ons, I could care less that you're a walk-on. It doesn't make any difference to me if you're a one-star or a five-star or a zero-star. Boise State has proven that stars don't mean anything, and we've proved it as well. We just want good players. Come here every day to work, be the best guys you can be, be the best player you can be, and if you do that, then we're going to win a lot of ballgames, because there's competition every day you go on the field.'"

Competition is likely to be fierce along the outside. Though sophomore wide receiver Chris Harper will be on the shelf this spring due to shoulder surgery, his fellow scholarship wide outs -- Bryce Treggs, Darius Powe, Kenny Lawler, Maurice Harris, likely Cedric Dozier (who spent last year as a redshirt defensive back after coming in as a four-star All-American wide receiver) and early-enrollee Dannon Cavil -- will be running their tails off, along with Bryce McGovern, Jackson Bouza, Stephen Anderson, Griffin Piatt, Patrick Worstell, Ross Anderson, James Grisom and Idarre Coles, as practice intensity is turned all the way up to 11.

"When I met with them and we talked, I think that the first thing was obviously that apprehension that everybody has when somebody new comes in. I think that they were close to their coaches, and from what I understand, the staff that was here, there was a lot of good men on that staff, so these guys were close to them," says Franklin. "But, I think by the time that we finished, that coach [Rob] Likens and I were the only two guys in there, at the end. I think the kids were excited and I've heard -- since then -- that there's a good buzz going around. The thing is, they follow everything, and they knew when we walked in the door that we had been incredibly productive, and that we had something that was special, and I think every player wants to be part of something special."

After some early reticence by some players at the "nobody is safe" rhetoric, slowly, the players have begun to buy in, Treggs in particular, and much of that is because this offense is going to simply be a lot of fun. When Franklin talks about his system, his words almost always ride the back of a laugh or a chuckle.

That buzz he spoke of is well-founded. Last season, Franklin -- along with new head coach Sonny Dykes, inside receivers coach Mark Tommerdahl and running backs coach Pierre Ingram -- guided a Louisiana Tech offense that led the nation in total points (681) and points per game (51.5), while coming in fourth in passing yards per game (350.75). Wide receiver Quinton Patton was fourth in the country with 116.00 receiving yards per game. Myles White was 96th in the nation with 59.83 receiving yard per game. Quarterback Colby Cameron finished second in the nation with 4,147 passing yards and was tied for eighth with 31 passing touchdowns.

"Our whole deal is, ‘Let's find some grass,' so it depends on where the defense gives you grass or how you create grass," says Franklin. "Sometimes you can create grass deep down the field by lining up in a power set and running the football, and when you get the match-up that you want if you have a really good receiver, you can throw the ball down the field. You can do the same thing to throw the ball in the middle of the field in the linebacker lanes, and that's using play-action and crossing routes where you make the linebacker flip his hips one way and you have a guy behind him the other way. It's not something that I do, to say that we're going to throw the ball over the middle. The main thing is that we just want to throw the ball successfully, so wherever it is that we can create grass, that's what we'll take."

In contrast to the founding canon of the Air Raid, under which Dykes and Franklin cut their coaching teeth, this offense not only runs in practice -- it runs all over the field, and not just after the catch.

"Probably one of the biggest differences from the [Hal] Mumme days is that you were in a plainly spread set to throw the football, and we get into a lot of power sets to throw the football and a lot of spread sets to run the football. It's almost like the exact opposite," says Franklin. "For us, to call it an Air Raid is really not the right word to use, because we run the ball usually as much as we throw it."

Last season, the Bulldogs ran the ball 521 times and threw it 533 times -- a far cry from fellow Air Raid disciple Mike Leach's Washington State team, which rushed 252 times in 2012, compared to 624 passing attempts.

"If you watched us play, and you went back to 1997 and ‘98 and you watched Kentucky play, you wouldn't think that you were watching anybody that came from the same family tree," Franklins says. "We are uniquely different. We play fast, we do run the football and we run it well. We believe that you have to do that in order to win a championship."

And Ingram -- the 2012 WAC Recruiter of the Year -- is far from shy, for his part. He wants the best tailbacks he can find. He is still on Terrell Newby -- using his one-every-seven-days dead period call to give him a ring after Newby finished last week's Cal State Game in Visalia, despite the fact that it was nearing midnight from where he was sitting in New York. He helped to shore up Khalfani Muhammad's commitment with a lengthy in-home visit. This offense is far from a one-trick pony, as long as it has the horses.

"Sometimes we run it more than we throw it, and we never go into any games saying we want to throw the ball X number of times," says Franklin. "We just basically say, ‘We're going to start off, and we're going to move the ball around, spread it around and make the defense run, make them hopefully eventually get tired, and then, once fatigue sets in, we can run the football.'"

It's an offense that finds its emotional core in its ability to demoralize opponents -- to knock them back and then step on their throats -- and with current speedsters Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco looking like the top tandem of backs next season, there won't be any playbook issues holding either of them back.

"I'll be concerned if we can't run the ball, because that's a huge part of us. Looking at the offensive line the other day, I was excited about that. I think those guys can really fire off the ball," Franklin says.

The offense is nimble enough to not only fit the existing talent, but simple enough, Franklin says, that it can be learned in three days -- four, tops.

"Number One, it's a mindset. Our mindset is that we never have a player on the field that we're losing that's going to change what we do and how we do stuff. We never make one player more important than another player," he says. "If a player's injured or he's out for whatever reason, we just go to the next guy. The year that we won the WAC championship [in 2011], we had a kid who started the year off as a backup inside receiver who was our fourth-team running back [Hunter Lee], that came in the last six games and rushed for 700 yards."

After not receiving a single Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offer, Lee rushed for 650 yards on 135 attempts as a true freshman in 2011.

"The reason why was that he was a good football player, and our other guys were good, but when everybody went down, we inserted him in the middle of the game -- without even practice reps -- and he rushed for 130 yards," says Franklin. "That's what we expect at Cal. When somebody gets hurt in practice, we get the medical staff to take care of them and then we move with the drill and move on to the next play. We just don't want everybody to make a big deal about the fact that there's one guy that's, ‘Oh, gosh, if this guy goes down we're in trouble.' We want to have enough good guys."

Of course, the focal point of any offense -- particularly Franklin's -- is the quarterback. The Franklin system will be a notable departure from Jeff Tedford's original, pro-style offense, an offense which became more and more diluted as the years progressed, with bits and pieces of up-tempo, spread, pistol, shotgun and other various styles weighing the playbook down until it clocked in at over 150 plays.

"Last year, we had four run plays that we run, and passing concepts, we have about seven or eight concepts," Franklin says. "What we try to do is learn those things and master those eight or 10 things that we do -- become masters of it -- and if we ever master that stuff, then that's when we become really good."

Franklin's system is not trying to be anything but what it already is: simple and effective. He says that his quarterbacks spend about one percent of the time under center, something other schools will almost certainly use against the Bears in recruiting.

Franklin is just fine with that.

"If you watch the NFL today, there's a misnomer that, well, if you're in the spread and the shotgun deals, you can't have the quarterback go to the NFL -- that's said mainly by people who don't watch football, and it's said by people who are recruiting against you that don't do what you do," says Franklin. "If you look at Tom Brady, Tom Brady's completing over 70 percent of his passes out of the shotgun, and Peyton Manning is throwing more balls out of the gun. If you look at New England and you look at their offense, New England runs a college offense. That's why they're successful. The best offenses in the NFL are the ones that resemble college offenses.

"I don't like getting under the center, because I think it takes away. It does a couple things: One, is that it takes away the quarterback as a run threat, and the second thing is that, in the shotgun, your offensive line can be below average, and you can be successful throwing the football. You can actually whiff a defender and still get a ball off. If you're under center and you whiff a defender or you don't stay on a defender, the quarterback's going to get hurried, he's going to get sacked and he's probably going to get hurt. One of the things that we pride ourselves on is the quarterback not taking hits."

Big-armed Zach Kline -- while athletic -- is decidedly not a threat to run. He can move up in the pocket, slide the pocket, and dodge incoming defenders, but he won't burn you with his legs. Allan Bridgford's arm has proven to be accurate, but slow in delivery. Dykes said two weeks ago that he recruited both Kline and the more-mobile Austin Hinder out of high school, and is familiar with both of them. He would ideally prefer to have a quarterback who could run eight to 10 times a game, but said that he's going into spring with no preconceived notions about any of his signal-callers, and neither is Franklin, who says that his offense is simple and flexible enough to accommodate whatever talent is available, as long as he can get the best players on the field.

"Most of our quarterbacks have not been runners. Most of our quarterbacks have been guys that were good athletes, but not great runners," says Franklin.

At Louisiana Tech, Cameron threw the ball 522 times in 2012, rushing just 61 times throughout the year for a net of 177 rushing yards. In 2011, Cameron split time with Nick Isham, and the two combined for 92 rushing attempts for a net of 171 yards.

"I was fortunate -- I've had a couple of pretty good runners at some of my stops, and Sonny's been places where most of the time, they haven't been good runners. That's something that you just adjust it to what they can do," says Franklin. "If the guy's a great thrower, can move well in the pocket, then you adjust to that. If the guy can run, then you adjust to that. I've had a quarterback who ran for 1,200 yards at Middle Tennessee (Dwight Dasher) and he threw for about 2,600 or 2,700 yards, so he was pretty good at both, but obviously I haven't had one like that before that and I probably won't have one like that again, but you just adjust to what they can do ... It doesn't matter. You just want a good player there."

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