Missouri is eager to keep QB Franklin healthy

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Don’t be surprised if Missouri quarterback James Franklin seeks the path of least resistance this fall. He’s under orders.

The

Tigers were 5-7 in their first season in the SEC, their first without a

bowl trip since 2004, and it didn’t help matters that Franklin missed

four starts and was almost never close to 100 percent. He was still

recovering from shoulder surgery when fall workouts began, and during

the season was dogged by knee woes, a concussion, a cracked rib, broken

fingers and a few pulled muscles.

“Along those lines,” Franklin said after detailing the highlights. “But it’s over now.”

Franklin

ran for 15 touchdowns his sophomore year and remains a threat. Coaches,

however, would much rather see him scamper out of bounds or execute a

stylish slide in a conference full of NFL-ready defensive players.

They already know he’s tough. But operating behind a line ravaged by injuries, Franklin got beat up last season.

“If

you get a composite of all the injuries at quarterback in my 25 years

or so of coaching, he had more on one body in one year than I had in 25

years,” Pinkel said. “No excuses. He wasn’t crying and moaning; he

battled through it.”

The goal this season is simple: Getting

their unfailingly polite leader, who tacks on “yes sir” or “no sir” to

virtually every answer during interviews, back to the huddle upright.

“Obviously,

in this league you look around at future NFL players and you don’t want

to give them a whole lot of opportunities to take shots at your

quarterback,” new offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “You also want

to have him available when he’s got those (running) skills at certain

times that are critical situations.”

None of his ailments last

year, Franklin maintained, were the result of going for the extra yard.

He’s not scared about getting banged up by SEC defenses, either.

“I’m

not really worried about running the ball, but I do want to get down

more because it’s not fun being sore the next day,” Franklin said.

“There’s a lot of bumps and bruises you have to work out throughout the

week. That’s something they’ve talked to me about, getting down and not

taking those shots.”

Missouri hasn’t ditched the spread offense,

so Franklin could still end up in lots of empty backfields. Henson

estimated that Franklin would probably have fewer designed runs and said

he’s told his quarterback countless times it’s about “being smart.”

“He has to go down,” Henson said. “It’s not about you showing your toughness. If you don’t protect yourself, you hurt the team.”

Pinkel

has been impressed with backup quarterback Maty Mauk, and as in past

seasons plans on setting aside playing time for the presumed starter in

waiting. Three former Missouri quarterbacks are in the NFL, and Franklin

got his feet wet backing up future Jaguars starter Blaine Gabbert, just

as Chase Daniel did behind Brad Smith.

Franklin arrived at fall

camp as one of four team captains, although without the No. 1 job. When

Missouri opens Saturday night against FBS-division Murray State, it’ll

be nearly two weeks since Pinkel ended the suspense while complimenting

the soft-spoken Franklin for his leadership qualities.

“He’s grown a lot, he’s matured a lot,” Pinkel said.

Franklin’s

numbers were way down last year, with 10 touchdown passes and seven

interceptions along with 116 yards rushing. As a sophomore, he threw for

21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions and rushed for 981 yards and 15

scores.

A few days away from his last college opener, Franklin

said Pinkel’s announcement was no surprise, “not really, no sir.” Pinkel

noted fans always want to see the backup.

“I just try to focus

on making sure I’m being smart,” Franklin said. “Whether I have anything

to prove, I’ll try to lead the team to some points and help us win.”