When recounting senior quarterback James Franklin’s 2012 injuries, a board game comes to mind.
Though Franklin never went under the knife during or after the Tigers’ 5-7 campaign, issues with his shoulder and knee might as well have placed the Texas native on “Operation’s” table, where high-powered Southeastern Conference defenses took shots at his limbs like a child messing with toy models.
It didn’t help that Franklin tucked the pigskin and ran 88 times last year into the teeth of the opposition’s front seven. Coach Gary Pinkel said he knows his quarterback is tough, but he would like him to get out of bounds.
“What James has to do is be smarter when he runs with the ball,” Pinkel said. “The decisions he makes, he has to go down. You learn that it’s not about you showing your toughness. But it’s more so about you protecting yourself because if you don’t protect yourself, you hurt the team. Eventually you’re going to take the wrong hit at the wrong time.”
An incentive for Franklin to step out of the enemy’s crosshairs might be his supporting cast of receivers and backs, one of the deepest playmaking corps in the SEC.
The top five receivers listed on the depth chart, headlined by sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, each have substantial game experience.
After a huge spring scrimmage, Green-Beckham has been mostly quiet over the summer as Franklin and redshirt freshman Maty Mauk battled for the starting quarterback job, a competition Franklin ultimately won in mid-August.
But Green-Beckham says that trend is not likely to continue as the season wears on. The former five-star recruit jumped from the slot to out wide for the 2013 season, a position that better fits his 6-foot-6-inch, 225-pound frame.
“I feel like that’s just how it is during practice,” he said. “When it’s game time, I feel like it’s going to be totally different ‘cause other teams don’t really know what’s going to happen.”
Meanwhile, Missouri’s stable of tailbacks has impressed all through camp. Junior Marcus Murphy, last season’s starter, dropped to the third slot in the depth chart as junior Henry Josey returned from injury and sophomore Russell Hansbrough dominated through the spring and summer.
“We can throw to any position,” Franklin said. “I can hand the ball off and move the ball on offense, and that’s really exciting.”
But the Tiger offense sputtered in their final intrasquad scrimmage Friday. The the first team and second team offenses combined for 286 yards. Still, Pinkel defended his starting unit and expressed confidence in Franklin and the offensive line.
“Mental errors and penalties, that’s just beating yourself,” Pinkel said he told his team after the game.
A clean bill of health, a blessing never bestowed upon Missouri last season, is another reason for optimism, he said.
“There’s quite a confidence that _every_body’s prepping,” Pinkel said, stressing the “every” in everybody. “You have the same guy lining up next to you every play.”