Search for Cromartie's Replacement

San Diego actively reshaped its secondary this offseason, yet it remains unclear who will replace Antonio Cromartie in the starting line-up. Will Norv Turner promote Antoine Cason? Coud a veteran like Nathan Vasher or Donald Strickland get the nod? Or might this draft prospect be the answer?

When Dominique Franks embarks on his professional career in a few weeks, he'll be about as well prepared as any cornerback in the 2010 NFL draft.

A two-year starter for Oklahoma, Franks looked into the eyes of a former middle school classmate — potential franchise quarterback Sam Bradford — for four years.

"It was like a game, really. Every day when we did ones against ones, it was just pretty much a game," Franks said about his daily duels against Bradford and the Sooners' always-deep cast of receivers. "I treated it like it was a game. Me and Sam have always been close. We went to middle school together, so we have a relationship to where he would ask me, ‘What are you looking at as far as receiver splits or if you're reading me?' I would ask him what he was looking at, why he's scanning the field. It really worked hand-in-hand. I just tried to use the things that he looked at and meld it into my game. It don't get too much better than Sam Bradford in college."

Franks will be a target for the Chargers if he lasts until the third round. At a shade over 5-foot-11, he has the size the Chargers demand in their corners. With 4.47-seconds speed in the 40-yard dash, he's got the athleticism. And he's been productive, both as a corner (six interceptions in two seasons starting, with two returned for touchdowns) and returner (career average of 11.9 yards on punts).

CB Dominique Franks
Oklahoma Athletics
"Franks is a solid, durable cover corner who still has room to improve and could develop into an elite all-around defender," draft analyst Chris Steuber said. "He has great size and quickness to match up against all-sized receivers. He's physical at the line, isn't afraid to mix it up and will remain physical throughout a route. He's quick and stays low in his backpedal, easily transitions with receivers, keeps his head on a swivel and positions himself well to make a play with his long arms. He defends well playing off the line, displays the instincts and burst to react to the action and closes fast. He's a willing tackler that does a good job of taking down receivers after the catch. He's a high-character individual and is popular amongst his teammates."

The Chargers' need for a cornerback stems from the offseason trade of Antonio Cromartie. Franks would fit in well in San Diego, where he would compete with newcomers Nathan Vasher and Donald Strickland.

"To be honest, I've always been a film guru," Franks said. "It started in high school. I started playing corner my junior year in high school and I used to ask my coach for cut-ups in high school. Me and my mother would sit down on the couch and watch them. I always loved watching film. It helps you out a lot. As a DB, you're always reacting to a receiver. Being able to watch film and really get a heads-up, you're able to predict certain routes because you know what route is coming on a certain down and distance or personnel group. Just things like that. Film really makes you a better player. You can read a lot of receivers' tendencies, quarterbacks' (tendencies). It makes it to where you're not reacting. You're just going out there and playing because you pretty much know what to expect. When it happens, you're in position to make a big play for your team.

"Instead of making a tackle after a catch, you're getting a PBU (pass breakup) or maybe a pick-six."

It was mom's job to watch film because of two tragedies in Franks' life. Franks didn't know his father for most of his life. He met his future stepdad when he was 12 but he died when he was 15. He later got "really close" with his real father during his senior year in high school but, about a month later, he died a week after Franks' birthday.

"After losing my two fathers, it was just me and my mother," Franks said. "We moved to Tulsa and the rest of our family lived in Oklahoma City, so that's all we really had. My mother's my best friend. I really have to give her all the credit to where I'm at today. If I didn't have her playing the mother and the father role, I really don't think I would be in the situation that I'm in right now."

Thanks to Thelma, Franks is in position to be drafted and be an early contributor on defense and special teams.

"Man, it makes me speechless, to be honest," he said. "It's a lot of kids' goals with this dream for a long time. It was a dream, but a couple years ago, my dream really turned into my reality. It's a special feeling. I used to watch ‘Monday Night Football,' Sunday football. Now, I'm going to be that guy that's going to be playing. My life is going to change. Football is going to be my job. There's a lot of people in the world that can't really say they love their job."

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