GREEN BAY, Wis. — Johnathan Franklin refused to make any excuses for fumbling the ball in back-to-back games. He knows that’s the last thing that a rookie running back can afford to do, especially with a Green Bay Packers offense that places supreme emphasis on ball security.
And while running backs coach Alex Van Pelt described Franklin’s latest fumble as “unacceptable,” the explanation he gave involved “a blind hit” from the helmet of Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ezekiel Ansah. Van Pelt believed that “the best ball-security guys to ever play the game” probably would’ve fumbled on that play.
“I don’t think he’s a fumbler,” Van Pelt said of Franklin. “He doesn’t carry the ball loosely or carelessly any of the other times. I just think it’s two games in a row there with unfortunate hits on the ball. We emphasize it, we talk about it, he understands that it can’t happen, obviously.”
Perhaps Franklin has just been unfortunate with fumbles the past two games — the first of which led to a Cincinnati Bengals recovery and game-winning touchdown return. However, fumbles were an issue for Franklin during most of his college career.
At UCLA, Franklin had eight fumbles as a freshman, six fumbles as a sophomore and seven fumbles as a junior. Then as a senior, Franklin’s fumbling problems were nearly gone, losing the ball just once.
“I just put an emphasis on it,” Franklin told FOXSportsWisconsin.com on Friday. “Definitely had to practice it and make it a conscious thing.”
Franklin’s improvement with ball security in his senior season wasn’t the only reason that Van Pelt felt comfortable having the rookie’s back on this topic.
“I don’t consider him a careless ball guy,” Van Pelt. “He takes care of the football in practice, he always has, it just happened to happen two weeks in a row. He knows it’s unacceptable and we can’t have it.”
Franklin didn’t re-enter the game on offense against Detroit after his fumble. While fellow rookie Eddie Lacy ran for 99 yards, Franklin sat on the bench.
“I told (Franklin) after the game, ‘you know we didn’t put you back in because you fumbled; it’s just the way the game unfolded at that point,’” Van Pelt said. “Eddie was getting hot, was approaching 100 yards and we were trying to get him there. So I didn’t say, ‘hey, you’re done for the rest of the game because you put the ball on the ground,’ because I don’t think he’s that guy.”
Franklin really appreciated those comments from Van Pelt.
“I think it was great for coach to still trust in me and say what he said,” Franklin said. “It definitely goes a long way.”
Don’t expect to see Franklin’s time on the sideline last any longer than it has, as Van Pelt has plans to get him “into the mix” in Sunday’s Week 6 road game against the Baltimore Ravens.
As coach Mike McCarthy addressed the media Wednesday afternoon, Franklin was still on the practice field.
“He puts the extra time in as far as in the return game, ball security, extra drills and so forth,” McCarthy said. “He’s classy young man. He has great work ethic, and I’m confident he’ll get it right.”
It hasn’t been all bad for Franklin this season. When he took over for an injured James Starks in Cincinnati, Franklin ran for 103 yards on 13 carries with one touchdown. Franklin’s biggest highlight was a 51-yard burst that showed how quick and explosive he can be in space. And it was that exact rushing play that has kept him confident despite the two fumbles that have happened since.
“I said, ‘I got my groove back,'” Franklin said. “It was fun. Football is fun. To make plays like that and be able to run around and do those things, it’s fun and exciting. I love this game.”
If Franklin can hang onto the ball better, he’ll get plenty more opportunities in the Packers’ backfield this season.