Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and its All-America Committee, voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs: Experience one of keys for Franks in QB battle
Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks is shown during a workout at the Walker Pavilion in Fayetteville.
Generally, in sports, bigger is better. Big trumps little.
Conventional wisdom doesn’t apply where it comes to quarterback, most notably where height comes into play for the NFL.
Some NFL teams ahead of the draft downgraded former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett because he measured 6-7.
So it probably shouldn’t surprise when Feleipe Franks objected when new teammate Trey Knox, measured at 6-5, said the new Arkansas quarterback was a couple of inches taller, a good 6-7.
“I’m 6-6,” Franks said. “I’m not trying to grow. I’ll take 6-5, or 6-6. That’s a good height for a quarterback.”
Translation: Don’t list the Crawfordsville, Fla., product at 6-7.
“I do make sure when I’m measured it’s without my shoes on,” Franks said.
There are a lot of things the Razorbacks are making sure about. The covid-19 safety measures are serious. Franks has led some summer 7-on-7 passing drills that are the heart of preparations for the start of walk-through practices July 24.
The covid-19 global pandemic took on special meaning to Franks. He traveled to Texas for the funeral of an uncle on June 20.
“It’s a lot for a young person to handle,” said Kendal Briles, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “Personally, that’s really difficult.”
That’s a word coaches have used a lot these last few months as players were sent home for three months after colleges emptied campuses and forced studies to be completed online. That’s the way the coaching has been, too. Virtual meetings through the Zoom application have become the way of life.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” Briles said. “It’s different and it’s difficult. Really it’s so different than any time in football. Nothing like this has ever happened.
“What I’ll say — and this is easy to say when you know one of your players is going to a funeral — is that first and foremost, we worry about their health. That’s players, staff and everyone else.
“Everyone around the country wants us to play football, so what we tell our guys is to do our social distancing and stay safe. The coaches have to do their part and our players have to do their part. The feedback we are getting is that’s what is happening.”
What isn’t happening is different. Briles, the first-year Arkansas coordinator, has yet to see his quarterback candidates throw the football. He’s heard reports that part is going well, but he hasn’t seen anyone other than tape from another season.
Briles is pleased with the talent on hand, including Franks and returnees KJ Jefferson, John Stephen Jones and Jack Lindsey. All started at least one game last season. True freshman Malik Hornsby is four-star prospect with dual threat ability with 10.7-second speed in the 100 meters.
Franks was the Florida starter for 16 straight games until a horrific ankle injury ended his season against Kentucky in the SEC opener. Kyle Trask took over as starter and the Gators didn’t look back on the way to an 11-2 season and a victory in the Orange Bowl over Virginia.
The Gators were 13-3 in the 16 games Franks started. He started all 13 games as a redshirt sophomore, then three in 2019 before the ankle injury. He passed for 4,593 yards and 35 touchdowns at Florida.
Compare that to the Arkansas team passing numbers of the last two seasons and it’s easy to see when Franks was coveted. The Hogs threw for 13 TDs last year and 17 in 2018.
New Arkansas coach Sam Pittman and Briles were interested as soon as Franks showed up in the transfer portal.
As soon as Pittman hired Briles, the new coordinator made Franks “my No. 1 guy to go after and to try to build that relationship.”
Briles called Franks “a great kid, great person, exactly what you want from the measurables.”
But it’s not just being tall with a great arm that excites Briles.
“You can buy a lot of things, but you can’t buy experience,” Briles said. “He’s lived it. He’s a guy who’s done it. So I look forward to working with him.”
Interestingly, that’s what Briles said on signing day. He is still saying the same thing. He’s yet to see him throw in person.
“I feel good about our quarterbacks,” Briles said. “But I have not gotten to see Feleipe throw it in person — or any of our guys, but when I have seen him workout with our strength staff. He’s huge, 6-6 or better and 240. He’s sure pretty.
“In our Zoom (virtual meetings), he knows it. Our players who have been with him in throwing sessions, say he can really spin it. I’ve seen him throw it on tape, and you can tell that’s true. It’s serious spin.
“As far as the rest of the quarterbacks, they all have ability. I really like KJ, Malik, John Stephen and Jack. I really look forward to working with them on the field. It’s just so different that I’ve been here this long and yet to work with our quarterbacks.”
What Briles does know is that Franks is healthy. The dislocated ankle that was repaired by complex surgery to repair ligament damage is ready to go.
“I feel great, just wonderful,” Franks said in late June. “I’ve been able to do all the workouts since we returned to start the second week of June. I’m 100 percent. The workouts have been tough and hard, but I haven’t had any problems. I’m good.”
That is probably the best news anyone could hear this summer. Pittman isn’t conceding a starting spot to anyone — especially the quarterback — but to have Franks healthy to lead in the rebuilding process is important.
“He’s proven he can do it in this league at a high level,” Pittman said. “It’s a huge deal for us. I’m not saying he’s going to win the starting spot, but it’s a big deal to get him.
“It will allow some of these young guys to compete and get a little bit more time to get game-ready.”
None are game ready yet, not even Franks. He’s learning new terminology and the hand signals that designate the plays and nuances of the offense in a no-huddle scheme.
“What we do between plays is where it’s difficult,” Briles said. “We have learned it in (virtual) meetings. The guys know it, but doing it on the field is what’s different.
“What I know is that they can do it in a meeting when everything is calm. Can they do it when a defense is out there. It’s completely different.
“It’s going to be an on-the-field process. It always is.
“What we’ve determined is that we have quality people, smart players. They are learning the signals. That’s the quarterbacks, everyone. Now we have to live it, what happens between plays with our signals.
“So much happens between plays. There are just so many components. Most haven’t done what we do and they may also be learning a different name for it.”
Franks said that’s true.
“I have seen some of the concepts, but under different names,” he said. “(Florida) coach (Dan) Mullen did some of this, but under different names. It will be a process to get used to the new names, but I don’t think it’s going to be hard.
“We are getting acclimated. We will get it. It’s time to get dialed in because we know the clock is ticking (as the first game approaches).”
The excitement builds as the clock ticks.
“It sure does,” Franks said. “Our team is hungry. We want to bring the Arkansas Razorbacks back.
“I didn’t know a lot of history on this program, but I’ve begun to learn it. I know it’s been a struggle of late.”
Specifically, the Hogs went 2-10 the past two years. Obviously, that was not a deterrent when Franks looked for a landing spot.
“When I was looking for a school, what I wanted was some place that I could help take back to the top,” Franks said. “I love to compete. I guess it could have been easy to pick a school that was winning eight to 10 games a year.
“I wanted this challenge. I looked and saw a team that did have some talent, but was just missing a piece here or there.
“And, I looked for a place that had an offense that excited me. Coach Briles has that. It’s really a dream offense. There are lots of options, lots of chances for the skill players to get involved.
“I’m sure the wide receivers love it. If you are a wide receiver and like to score points, this is the offense for you.”
Briles does not neglect the running game, but it is a quick-strike offense built around winning one-on-one matchups with wide receivers.
“There are some games you play man-to-man defense every play,” Briles said. “So it’s about beating that man with your wide receiver.
“So recruiting great wide receivers is so crucial. It’s your guy against their guy. You have to get a win at that spot. There are great corners in the SEC. You see them every week. So you better get some individuals that can win some battles.
“It’s as simple as this: If you are good at wide receiver and cornerback, you are probably going to win a lot of games. If your guys are winning those one-on-one battles and you can get them the ball, you are probably in good shape.”
Someone might say, your team would be standing tall. Arkansas can already say that with Franks, but not too tall.
This story originally appeared in the 2020 Hawgs Illustrated football preview
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