James Franklin is a jack-of-all-trades

James Franklin has played every position on the football field with quarterback actually being the last.

Mark Zerof

James Franklin, an undrafted quarterback from Missouri who was signed by the Detroit Lions, has done it all.

At one time or another, he said he has played every position on the football field with quarterback actually being the last.

"I started playing football in the fifth grade; I weighed 185 pounds," Franklin said. "I was pretty big. They had a weight limit to run the ball. It was 135. Obviously, I was a little over it. So I played right tackle, played center, guard and defensive end.

"We moved to Texas and they didn’t have a weight limit. I played some running back and center, and then linebacker, did a little bit of safety. I was a punter and kicker just because I could kick. I didn’t have good form or anything. I just had a big leg, so I could punt it far.

"As I got older, my dad had me do more jump rope. I started getting a little bit quicker. I played receiver, tight end, and eventually quarterback. I think it helped out a lot, being able to play the different positions and seeing it from that perspective."

The Lions considered taking a quarterback in the recent NFL Draft to have a young prospect to groom as Matthew Stafford’s backup for the future.

In the end, they chose to use their picks elsewhere, which led to signing Franklin, considered one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, to try to fill the void.

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Franklin (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) is expected to compete with Kellen Moore to be the Lions’ No. 3 quarterback behind Stafford and Dan Orlovsky, a nine-year NFL veteran who played his first four seasons in Detroit.

The Lions haven’t drafted a quarterback since taking Stafford first overall in 2009.

Like Franklin, Moore went undrafted two years ago coming out of college at Boise State, but he’s spent the last two last couple seasons as the Lions’ third-stringer even though he has never been active for a regular-season game.

"Those discussions were certainly ongoing during the course of the draft," coach Jim Caldwell said of the possibility of drafting a QB. "It just turned out in a way in which, obviously, we ended up having to go through a college free agent in order to find another guy.

"Franklin is smart. He’s a talented guy. He’s had a very good career. He was with a winner. He knows how to work extremely hard."

Franklin missed four games last year because of a separated shoulder, which he believes might have hurt his chances of being one of the 256 players drafted.

Although he returned to play late in the season, Franklin wasn’t at his best. Missouri defeated Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl, but he completed just 15-of-40 passes in the game.

"I could have had those last four games that I played after the injury to do really good," Franklin said. "I didn’t make the most of it. I think that’s probably where it hurt me the most.

"I had some yardage here and there but as far as completion percentage and decision-making, I don’t think I did that good. That could have factored into it.

"It’s always been a goal of mine to get drafted. Even though I didn’t, all I’ve wanted is an opportunity. Now I have the opportunity."

The perception of Franklin is that he’s a running quarterback. He finished his senior year with 510 yards rushing despite missing most of those four games.

However, he insists he’d rather not play that way.

"I don’t really like running," Franklin said. "I did it some in college. I switched over to quarterback my junior year in high school. I had played receiver (previously) so it was just natural for me to run. Whenever things got a little cloudy, I’d just take off and run. But I like throwing the ball a lot better."

Franklin, 22, admitted that he struggled calling plays during the Lions’ three-day rookie mini-camp last weekend.

He’s used to being in a no-huddle offense in college, where the plays were signaled to the offense from the sideline. The terminology to call the plays in the Lions’ huddle is considerably more detailed. He said he had to do a lot of thinking "instead of just going out there and playing."

There were even a few times he made the call and then had to ask himself, "OK, what did I just say?"

It’s not an unusual progression for a rookie, especially a rookie quarterback. What’s most important is that he has it all down by the time training camp opens in late July to give himself a legitimate shot of challenging Moore for a roster spot.