'Last Chance U' star John Franklin III keeps fighting as he looks to make Bears as a defensive back

'Last Chance U' star John Franklin III keeps fighting as he looks to make Bears as a defensive back

Most of the undrafted free agents and rookie minicamp tryout guys floating around the NFL right now are anonymous faces in large crowds of players. Then there’s John Franklin III.

“Yeah, even the guys on the team come up to me when I walk around and are like, you were on that show,” Franklin said. “I hear that literally two or three times a day, literally every day.”

That show is “Last Chance U,” the Netflix documentary about East Mississippi Community College's football team on which Franklin starred in 2016. Franklin transferred to EMCC from Florida State after being buried on the Seminoles’ depth chart; after one season largely spent as a backup behind Wyatt Roberts under coach Buddy Stephens in Scooba, Miss., Franklin transferred to Auburn. He played as a backup quarterback there in 2016, then transferred to Florida Atlantic and played wide receiver in 2017. 

Franklin was not picked in April’s NFL Draft but tried out at the Seattle Seahawks’ rookie minicamp as a defensive back. He didn’t earn a contract there, so he tried out again last weekend, also as a defensive back, at the Bears’ rookie minicamp. On Sunday, he signed a contract with the Bears.

And on Wednesday, he and his jovial, positive personality spent a few moments expounding on how he wound up in Chicago in a “last chance camp” of sorts. 

“I’m a fighter, I’m a competitor and I’m a winner so that alone helps, and I got a chance to show that on the show,” Franklin said. 

We’ll get into Franklin’s chances later of actually sticking on an NFL roster while learning an entirely new position on an unfamiliar side of the ball. But Franklin figured out — in front of the cameras for the whole world to see — while at EMCC that he had to have a certain persistence and mental toughness if he wanted to stick with football. 

“From when I was a little kid, I’ve always been very persistent,” Franklin said. “If there was something I really wanted, I always made sure I did whatever I had to do to get it. And that’s going back from being, like, four years old — if I wanted a piece of candy, I’m gonna get my piece of candy one way or another, you know what I’m saying?” 

But Franklin admitted he considered giving up football while at EMCC, and said the year that was so thoroughly documented on “Last Chance U” was a “low point” in his life. 

“That was where I actually grew the most, in that low point,” Franklin said. “I kind of got myself together and was like, bro, you can do this, you wouldn’t be in this position if you couldn’t. And then as I look back on my journey, I’m like man, God’s really faithful and really good because every time a door closes, another one opens right after. It doesn’t happen like that all the time for everybody, but it happened for me. And I’m truly blessed to have that, be chosen to do that.”

Franklin didn’t produce much as a wide receiver last year, catching seven passes for 95 yards, but his off-the-charts athleticism still showed up with 659 yards on 62 carries over 23 games at Auburn and FAU (10.6 yards per carry). Franklin claimed he ran a 4.19 second 40-yard dash in February, and while he ran an official 4.44 second 40-yard dash at the National Scouting Combine (which is not the NFL Combine), the point is this: He’s fast.

And, as the Bears see it, fast enough to be given a shot as a cornerback. 

So that brings us back to this question: What chance does Franklin actually have of making an NFL roster or practice squad, specifically with the Bears?

“It’s definitely tough running forward for most of your life and now you’re running backwards,” Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “It’s definitely tough. (Defensive backs coach) Ed Donatell is great with details and great at coaching guys. I think this is the best spot for him to be because of the coaching.”

Franklin is confident he can make the switch because he’s not only played wide receiver, but also quarterback, giving him a good knowledge of what opposing players will try to do to him as a defensive back. But he’s not yet at the point where that knowledge will be an advantage, because he’s in such a nascent stage of his development as a defensive player. 

“Rome wasn’t built in one day,” Franklin said. “It’s like learning a new language for me. Learning how to run backwards instead of forwards, that’s different. I just take it day by day and I really try to focus on one thing and get better at that, and then once I get better at it I can move on to the next thing.” 

Franklin’s goal is to make the Bears’ 53-man roster out of training camp, which may seem lofty — but this is a guy whose goal was to win the Heisman Trophy in college, whether he was at Florida State, Auburn or FAU. So maybe don’t be quick to count out the “Last Chance U” guy who’s on his third position in the last three years. 

“If your goals aren’t big enough to where it’s not something to strive for, then what are you doing,” Franklin said. “You know what I’m saying? That’s something to push forward to. Nobody can ever have higher expectations for me than I have for myself. I always believe that if you don’t believe in yourself, then nobody should believe in you.” 

As Roquan Smith misses practice with hamstring soreness, Bears' Matt Nagy readies to face old friends

As Roquan Smith misses practice with hamstring soreness, Bears' Matt Nagy readies to face old friends

(A bunch of injury information from Bears practice Tuesday, but that can get boring so we’ll start with something else for a change, because little of the injury stuff is for-sure….)
Third preseason games are significant as indicators for players, with starters typically playing into third quarters of these games. But for Matt Nagy in his first-ever gig as a head coach, Saturday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs is also his first in which a modicum of game-planning is in order, making it a semi-revealing look at his game-day and game-prep capabilities.
Nagy will be on the opposite sideline from his mentor and coaching role model, Andy Reid, who gave Nagy his start in 2008 as a coaching intern with the Philadelphia Eagles, then hired Nagy in 2013 as quarterbacks coach when Reid moved to Kansas City.
So Nagy this week is scheming for an offense and defense with which he has more than just a passing familiarity (pun intended). And with individuals with whom he is close personally as well as professionally.
“It is preseason, and I think it just kind of puts a little added fun to it, just the respect I have for that organization and obviously for Coach Reid and [Kansas City GM Brett Veach,” Nagy said, smiling. “That’s where I started, so it’s fun.
“But [Chicago] is my home, and [the Bears are] my ‘family’ now. We’ll have a good time with it. There will be some chuckles and I’m sure some eye contact across the sidelines a few times, but it’ll be all fun.”
The Bears practiced with scout-team players wearing red over-jerseys to signify certain key Chiefs: e.g., 50 for Pro Bowl rush linebacker Justin Houston, 87 for tight end Travis Kelce. Nagy as Chiefs coordinator knows Kansas City personnel and the mind behind them.
“Game planning while knowing those guys, they know I know them inside and they know us inside out,” Nagy said. “So there’s a little bit of reverse psychology going on right now. You’ve just got to figure out if you’re playing chess or are you playing checkers. And I guess we’ll see.”
And now, those injuries, starting with…
Roquan Smith.
The rookie No. 1 draft choice was in uniform but was pulled from practice when he experienced soreness in his left hamstring. The immediate suspicion/concern is that Smith’s month-long holdout while his contract was hammered out contributed to the soft-tissue problem, not an uncommon occurrence with a player at the outset of training camp, which this past week has effectively been for Smith.
He was held out of the game in Denver and was expected to make some sort of debut against Kansas City. But the missed practice, spent running in the team’s sand pit for off-field work, raises a significant question about his potential readiness for Saturday, with the Bears waiting to see the state of his hamstring on Wednesday.
“There [was] just some tightness, so [sitting out is] more precautionary than anything,” Nagy said. “That’s exactly why we do what we do. If you put him in early and he’s not ready, then something like this happens where it gets worse. So we just want to be precautionary with it.”
Nagy said that had this been an in-season game week, the thought was that he could have practiced through the hamstring. But preparing for a preseason game that represents the only anticipated game action for the rookie linebacker before the regular season, the team wants the greatest chance that Smith will be operational by Saturday.
Smith identified game-level conditioning as the biggest hurdle for him to overcome heading into his first game. He worked out assiduously with strength coaches in Georgia during the contract negotiations, but “you work out and do all the running you can,” he said, “but it’s nothing like football shape.”
Smith is not the only significant member of the defense in particular who is unofficially “questionable” approaching the midpoint of a game week.
Linebacker Leonard Floyd, as expected, is not practicing after surgery to repair a fracture involving the fingers of his right hand. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was at Halas Hall on Tuesday but not practing on a balky knee that kept him out of the Broncos game. Linebacker Aaron Lynch remains out with a hamstring strain suffered in the first practice of training camp. 

Tight end Adam Shaheen, who left with a foot injury in the first quarter of the Denver game, is still not practicing and the Bears do not appear to be either clear on the precise degree of the problem or don’t want to get into it beyond identifying the injury as a sprain.
“With Adam yesterday, he went ahead and got his ankle looked at it, and we ended up seeing there’s a little bit more to it with his foot,” Nagy said. “We’re kind of trying to figure out exactly where he’s at right now. We’re probably going to get it looked at, a second-opinion type deal. And that’s kind of where we’re at with him.”

Report: Bears won't have shot at Khalil Mack yet

Report: Bears won't have shot at Khalil Mack yet

Bears fans looking for a blockbuster trade might not want to get their hopes up.

With Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack continuing his holdout, speculation has run rampant about a team like Chicago acquiring the star pass-rusher.

Early indications are, he’s not going anywhere.

Albert Breer from the MMQB reported Monday that “inquiries about Mack’s availability from other NFL outposts have been quickly met with a no.”

This doesn’t mean that the Raiders couldn’t change their mind at some point, but for now, Mack appears to be off the market.

Any potential deal for the 2016 Defensive Play of the Year would require massive compensation, likely a first-round pick and more. The team that trades for him also has to give him a long-term contract extension, which could cost upward of $20 million per season.

Still, the Bears remain among the favorites for Mack’s potential destination because of their available cap space and lack of proven pass-rushers.

The longer the holdout goes, the more pressure Oakland may feel to make a move with their Pro-Bowl edge rusher. When the trade deadline rolls around at the end of October, the Raiders could be more likely to pick up the phone.