Bears

Longshot: Bears cornerback John Franklin III, a former 'Last Chance U' star, has a bigger goal in mind

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USA Today

Longshot: Bears cornerback John Franklin III, a former 'Last Chance U' star, has a bigger goal in mind

You might remember John Franklin III as the star-quarterback-turned-backup whose struggles at East Mississippi Community College played out on the first season of the Netflix docuseries “Last Chance U.” So when Franklin commented recently that he eventually doesn’t want to have to introduce himself to others, there was a natural follow-up question: “Don’t people know you already?”

“Yeah,” Franklin said. “I want them to remember me. Not just know me.”

Three years have passed since the self-described “low point” of Franklin’s life played out on Netflix. Since leaving EMCC, Franklin was a seldom-used quarterback at Auburn, then transferred to Florida Atlantic and played wide receiver for a year. The Bears saw potential in his size and raw speed and gave him a shot at playing cornerback a year ago. He wound up sticking on the practice squad during the second half of the season, and now has a legitimate opportunity to make the Bears’ 53-man roster in 2019. 

“I feel like I have every opportunity to make this 53 and I feel like I should make the 53,” Franklin said. “And that’s my only mindset, is to make the 53.”

In the grand scope of the NFL, Franklin’s ascent has been rapid. It’s rare for a player to make the position switches Franklin has over the last two years and stick in the NFL, even on practice squads and training camp rosters. It’s an unforgiving league, one where teams value all 90 spots on their preseason rosters. Potential is one thing, but players have to prove they can reach that potential to stick on a roster. 

Franklin, though, has a bigger goal in mind, one which goes beyond being one of the Bears’ 53 active players after Labor Day weekend. He had the word “legendary” tattooed on his stomach this year to serve as a constant reminder of what he aspires to be. 

“I’m not trying to just be okay,” Franklin said. “… I want to be the best that ever played.”

Franklin acknowledges he has a ways to go to reach that goal, and knows it won’t happen overnight. He also has plenty to prove to make the Bears’ roster. 

Franklin was beat on a couple of throws during the Bears’ preseason game against the New York Giants on Friday, including a 15-yard touchdown allowed to NFL veteran T.J. Jones. He did display good coverage in forcing an incompletion intended for Jones earlier in the game, though, which was more in line with what he did during an overall-solid training camp. 

“He’s a true athlete,” cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend said. “There’s not many people who can do some of the things he can do. And if he can just continue to get some reps, continue to learn, stay hungry, he’ll be fine.”

Franklin’s athletic profile is one reason why Townsend and the Bears still believe they can mold the quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-cornerback into a legitimate NFL player. But it’s not the only one: Townsend was keen to note how coachable Franklin is, whether it’s listening to advice, asking the right questions or putting in the work. 

After last season ended, Franklin said he took about a week and a half to decompress before he went back to working on his technique. He did defensive back drills five days a week at Goldfeet Global with Tevin Allen, working to get more comfortable with the position that, if all goes well for him, will be his ticket to the NFL. 

“My breaks now, it’s crazy compared to last year,” Franklin said. “My posture on breaks, I used to sit back, I used to clutch and lean back. And now I’m staying low and coming out. 

“… I really worked on every aspect because even though I’m still new to the position, I’ve had some success, I still feel like I have so much to learn and I still feel like I’m behind the 8-ball.”

Still, Franklin has a much better idea of what he’s doing now than he did a year ago. Getting to practice against wideouts like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller while on the practice squad taught him a lot about his technique while giving him the satisfaction of playing a role — albeit a small one — for a playoff team. He can self-correct mistakes and expects to make plays in practices and games, rather than needing to prove to himself he could stick in coverage and defend passes. 

Franklin’s shot at making the Bears’ roster, then, comes down to two factors: First, he needs to prove he’s the best option among a field of ex-undrafted players like Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph and Clifton Duck. If that fails — in this scenario, the Bears likely carry Toliver as their primary backup outside corner, as they did last year — he’ll need to prove worthy of a roster spot based on special teams contributions and potential. That means beating out, say, a sixth defensive lineman, a seventh wide receiver or a fifth outside and/or inside linebacker. 

So while Franklin aims to be legendary someday, he’s still a long shot to make the Bears’ roster. But the 24-year-old is aware of how far he’s come in a year, and believes he’ll eventually be remembered as one of the best cornerbacks to play in the NFL — not just a guy from that show you watched on Netflix. 

“I want to leave a legacy when it’s all said and done,” Franklin said. “Any time somebody says my name, I want them to know that he’s a hard worker, he did it all. I think this is bigger than me. What I do here is more than me. And that’s what it’s all about, leaving a legacy here on this earth playing this game.” 
 

(Too) Bold Predictions: Leonard Floyd scores the 1st Bears touchdown of the season

(Too) Bold Predictions: Leonard Floyd scores the 1st Bears touchdown of the season

(Too) Bold Predictions aims to take nuanced, well-researched information and use it to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

J.J. Stankevitz: 
1. The Bears' first touchdown of 2019 will be scored by...Leonard Floyd.
The thought here: Denver's offense is not designed to get the ball out quick, and Joe Flacco is generally immobile in the pocket. As long as the Bears' downfield coverage is as good as it was last week (save for one play-action bomb Aaron Rodgers hit), Floyd and Khalil Mack will have plenty of chances to tee off on Flacco. So one of those chances will lead to a strip-sack deep in Broncos territory, with Floyd scooping it up and jogging into the end zone. 

2. Mitch Trubisky will have a passer rating of 95.4.
That was Trubisky's passer rating in 2018...which was 33.3 points higher than his rating in Week 1. Generally speaking, it's hard to imagine Trubisky being significantly worse in 2019 than he was in 2018, even in light of how bad things were against the Packers. So even against a Vic Fangio defense, Trubisky will put up numbers close to or matching his per-game averages in 2018: 66.6 completion percentage, one touchdown, one interception, 230 yards, two sacks. And that'll be good enough for the Bears to win. 

Cam Ellis
1. The Bears will double their season touchdown total in the 1st quarter
This is, admittedly, just a round-about way of saying the Bears will actually get into the end zone this week, which would typically not be very bold. And yet, here we are. After 10 days of having to hear about the run game issues in Week 1, the bet here is that Nagy goes to David Montgomery early and often. Even with Vic Fangio at the helm, the Broncos' defense doesn't yet look like the intimidating sides he's been synonymous with. Let's say Montgomery gets in first from 10-15 and then Trubisky hits Anthony Miller for the 2nd. 

2. Eddy Pineiro will hit his first NFL field goal from 50+ yards
This game has Pineiro's name all over it. Consider: 

a. The way the offense played in Week 1 
b. The thin air
c. How frequently Nagy's decision to not try Pineiro from distance in Week 1 was questioned. 

The Bears spent all summer talking about the 'leg talent' Pineiro had, and while that alone didn't win him the job, it certainly didn't hurt (*Elliot Fry nods sadly*). They also frequently talk about getting Pineiro in a rhythm, and what better place to let him rip some than Denver in September? Since (Too) Bold Predictions are really just thinly-veiled optimism, let's say he sneaks one in from 53.

Three keys and prediction: Bears at Broncos

Three keys and prediction: Bears at Broncos

1. Let David Montgomery eat. Before the season, one of the narratives surrounding the Bears' offense was turning over 75 percent of the running back personnel from 2018 to 2019 would allow Matt Nagy's run scheme to flourish, which in turn would help Mitch Trubisky be a better quarterback. Having Trubisky pass 45 times with only 12 rushing plays to a player in the backfield in Week 1, then, hardly fit that narrative. 

A better run-pass balance will only help Trubisky be more comfortable going through his reads in the pocket, which should lead to him being more efficient. It has to happen this week, too, given the looming specter of Broncos edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb 10 days after the Packers generated a ton of pressure and five sacks on the pass-happy Bears. It’ll be a lot easier for Miller and Chubb to get after Trubisky if they can reasonably know a pass play is coming. 

So this brings us to the main point here: The Bears need to get Montgomery going. They didn’t trade up within the third round, sacrificing a 2020 fourth-round pick, to draft a running back who only gets seven touches. Yes, Montgomery will share time with Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen (assuming Cohen doesn’t line up out wide or in the slot on nearly every snap he takes again), but committing to a better run-pass balance — with Montgomery leading it — will work wonders for the Bears’ offense. 

The Oakland Raiders did this in Week 1, with rookie Josh Jacobs rushing 23 times for 85 yards (3.7 yards/carry)…while Derek Carr completed 22 of 26 passes in a 24-16 win. 

2. Don’t let Joe Flacco push the ball downfield. Flacco completed seven of 11 passes that traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage in Denver’s season opener, but only one of those traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The Broncos’ offense isn’t totally designed to get the ball out quick and scheme out edge rushers, but it might have to with big-ticket free agent right tackle Ja’Wuan James out (though the team trusts backup Elijah Wilkinson). The Bears’ defense should be good enough to make the necessary tackles and plays on those short throws to keep Denver out of the end zone. 

The goal, then, will be to not let Flacco hit a deep shot to Courtland Sutton or Emanuel Sanders, be it on play action or a straight drop-back. The good news is the Bears paired their coverage and pass rush well against Green Bay in Week 1, with cornerbacks and safeties generally not letting things develop downfield while Leonard Floyd/Khalil Mack/Roy Robertson-Harris/Akiem Hicks/etc. got after Aaron Rodgers. Do the same and Denver’s offense will have a tough time getting on the scoreboard. 

3. Win on first down. The best way for the Bears’ defense to deal with the attitude and heat facing them Sunday will be to not allow positive plays on first down. Denver’s offense wasn’t totally inefficient in Week 1, and reached Raiders territory on six of its eight possessions — yet didn’t score a touchdown until its last drive of the game. The Bears would do well to keep the Broncos from having the kind of extended drives they had on Monday (7.6 plays per drive) given the conditions Sunday.

The worry here is if Denver is able to extend drives, the Bears’ defense will get gassed quickly and might be more prone to allowing those drives to end in points than a Raiders defense high on inspiration but middling on talent was. So this means getting a good pass rush if Flacco drops back on first down, or having Akiem Hicks boss the interior while Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan get downhill to stop the run. Do that, and Denver’s offense likely won’t be good enough to overcome second- and third-and-long downs. 

Prediction: Bears 19, Broncos 16. The Broncos haven’t lost at home in Week 2 since 1979, and have a 12-game winning streak in Week 1 or Week 2 home games. Beneath those numbers are two things: First, the Broncos have been one of the NFL’s best franchises over the last 40 years; and second, it’s often difficult to play on the road at altitude early in the season, when players aren’t quite in peak football shape yet. 

The altitude will, of course, be present on Sunday. A good Broncos team will not. This game will nonetheless be close, but the team with the better roster will win. And that team is the Bears.