Franklin Runs with Patience, Explosion

His killer fumble notwithstanding, fourth-round pick Johnathan Franklin was as-advertised after a lackluster summer. He appears to be a good fit for the Packers' ascending running game with his knack for cutting back and exploding through a hole.

The Green Bay Packers were hoping to get a one-two backfield punch from Eddie Lacy and DuJuan Harris.

Instead, they might get that counterpuncher in the form of Johnathan Franklin.

It's what everyone expected when the Packers drafted the UCLA dynamo in the fourth round about five months ago. With the Bruins, Franklin was a dynamic open-field threat who played bigger than his size when running through defenders and taking them on in pass protection.

Those traits only rarely showed up during training camp, whether it was the practice field or the preseason games. So, Franklin's roster spot seemed based more on potential and draft status than merit.

That all changed on Sunday, when Franklin was pressed into action after James Starks went down with a knee injury late in the first half.

After not getting a single snap on offense in the first two games, Franklin practically came out of nowhere against Cincinnati. He rushed 13 times for 103 yards in just one half of action. It was the most yards by a Packers rookie running back getting his first touches on offense, surpassing Ralph Earhart's 78 yards against the Boston Yanks in 1948.

Of his 16 total touches, Franklin had six first downs and a touchdown. Time and again, he waited for his zone-blocking lineman to form a crease, then burst through the hole in the blink of an eye.

Where had that been in training camp and the preseason, when Franklin carried 21 times for 47 yards, a measly 2.2-yard average?

"He probably wasn't playing behind the No. 1 line in training camp,' offensive coordinator Tom Clements said on Monday. "That factors into it. It wasn't a surprise to us."

Franklin's long carry of the preseason went for just 7 yards. He had four carries of at least that many yards against the Bengals, including a 51-yard dash in which he showed his entire skill-set.

It was the longest run by a Packers back since Brandon Jackson's 71-yarder against Washington in 2010, and the longest by a rookie since Samkon Gado's 64-yard dash against Detroit in 2007.

"We've got some great offensive linemen," Franklin said. "I've got to praise God and give the guys up front credit."

The 51-yarder was a tremendous effort by Franklin and right guard T.J. Lang. It started with left tackle David Bakhtiari taking his man outside and center Evan Dietrich-Smith putting his man on the ground. Left guard Josh Sitton and Lang headed to the second level as Franklin cut the run upfield behind Bakhtiari's block.

Lang locked on to defensive lineman Brandon Thompson, blocking him all the way across the formation and toward the far sideline, while Sitton eyed middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Burfict got around Sitton's block but Lang was so dominant that he took out Burfict. That left Franklin one-on-one with safety Reggie Nelson at the 19. Running with the patience and second gear that didn't show up during camp, Franklin did the rest by turning a 6- or 7-yard gain into a sprint up the left sideline when he ran through Nelson's tackle attempt.


Earlier, he again showed exceptional patience and explosion. On a second-and-5 toss to the left on the opening possession of the third quarter, Franklin drifted all the way outside the numbers. With physical linebacker Rey Maualuga coming in to stop Franklin for no gain, Franklin stopped on a dime. Maualuga overpursued, Franklin broke an attempt at an ankle tackle and gained 9 yards. Franklin wound up capping that drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, made simple by pancake blocks from Bakhtiari and tight end Andrew Quarless.

"I thought he did very well," Clements said. "He ran the ball well, he saw the holes, he got through them quickly. He was patient on the outside runs, set up his blocks very well. He did a good job in pass protection as well. It's unfortunate that he had the fumble, but he did. But overall for his first action he did a very solid job."

The fumble and pass protection were as important as the running. The fumble proved to be a killer miscue in the Packers blowing the 30-14 lead that Franklin helped deliver.

"It's life. You, me, everyone, we're always learning," Franklin said. "You've got to understand why certain things happen, then go from there. We've got a long season. Hopefully, I'll be blessed with another opportunity."

The pass protection might be what provides that blessing of getting another opportunity once Lacy and Starks are healthy. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Franklin didn't allow a pressure in 12 snaps of pass protection.

"He's a smart kid," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last week. "I think he had a great spring, really understanding the offense and making some plays. Didn't have maybe the best training camp that he wanted, not a lot of great opportunities. I remember multiple carries where he's got an unblocked guy in the hole or to the side of the run, so I told him at one point during the preseason, ‘Don't worry, when you're in there with the 1s, there most likely won't be those type of looks you're going to face.' For him, I think he needs opportunity to get that confidence going. I mean, he's a talented player, he had a great college career, we've seen flashes of him being able to do a lot of things. He's got a bright future. It's just a matter of getting opportunities."

Those opportunities probably will be coming.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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