Should JUCO transfer John Franklin III earn the starting job for the Tigers this fall, the offense should be expected to resemble 2013 and 2014 under Nick Marshall. During those two seasons, Marshall totaled 325 rushing attempts (172 in 2013, 153 in 2014). That's a lot of times for the QB to carry the ball, but it's about average for any team running an option-style offense.
Nick Marshall was listed at 6'1, 210 lbs when he arrived at Auburn in 2013. John Franklin III is listed at 6'1, 174 lbs according to Auburn's initial spring roster. Rhett Lashlee mentioned the other day that he is now up somewhere around 10 lbs, which puts him at 184 or so. That's not very big for someone who may be expected to put up 150+ rushing attempts over the course of a season.
The preference, obviously, would be that he doesn't have to put up that many attempts. While lots of rushing yards are fantastic, I hope that the running backs still lead the way in carries and yards vs the quarterback. Should we be worried that Franklin isn't going to be able to stand up to the test? Can we compare his size to any other similar situations?
Why, Yes, We Can
There are other teams out there who run the QBs as much or more than Nick Marshall did in his two seasons on the Plains. Georgia Tech, as a triple-option team, is one. Navy, obviously, is another. Clemson ran Deshaun Watson a whole lot more than I thought. My second college football love, Georgia Southern, is yet another.
How did those teams compare in terms of average carries? I'm not going to do direct comparisons in terms of year-to-year, but let's look at last season. Here is the data for the QBs size, and number of carries in 2015:
I included both Georgia Southern QBs because they split time. Upshaw was in for at least 2-3 series in every game, by design, and Ellison was banged up a bit during parts of the season (more on that, because it's important, later on).
Reynolds and Watson are both at least 20 lbs heavier than Franklin. However, they also carried the ball far more than any of the other QBs in 2015. Reynolds' numbers are staggering. It's a shame he's never going to be eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame.
Justin Thomas may be the best comparison out of all of them, as the ACC - which Watson also plays in - is more compatible to the SEC than the Sun Belt or the American Athletic Conference. Thomas carried the ball 145 times at a size that is very close to Franklin. Most disconcerting for Auburn fans is that near the end of the 2015 season, Thomas was knocked out of a game with an upper-body injury a week prior to the regular season finale vs UGA. He did return to play in that game, though.
You're Not Making Us Feel Better
An upper-body injury for a QB in a situation like that is probably due to taking a hit on a run. In 2013, Nick Marshall was injured in a similar way and missed part of one game and an entirety of another for precautionary reasons. I mentioned that one reason Favian Upshaw had almost as many carries for Georgia Southern this past season as regular starter Kevin Ellison is because Ellison was banged up at times (it's also because Ellison was suspended for the first two games).
Ellison was banged up because he is a bit cocky at times and likes to lean in and give contact as much as he takes it. Nick Marshall was the same way on occasion. Marshall, at 6'1, 210 lbs, could do it a bit more than Ellison, at 6'0, 190 lbs, could.
What I'm trying to say through all of this is that while the size is a concern, it doesn't have to be. It all depends on Franklin and how he handles contact. Does he lean into it and try to make a hit himself, or does he slide, get out of bounds, etc? At his size, I hope Franklin is learning not to go for the home run on every play. There is honor in going to ground after you've gained a few yards and living for the next down.
Of course, when you have track star speed (which, Franklin does), then splitting the safeties on a zone-read draw and going 80 yards untouched is a great thing to have in your arsenal, too.
There are, of course, other factors involved. Franklin's body may be capable of taking those hits. He may be built like a rock for all of his 185 lbs and he can take the hits. I hope the coaches are doing everything to discourage that happening, though.
How Do You Prepare For It?
I'm a huge fan of Gus Malzahn making the QBs live in the scrimmage. Even if it's only for the scrimmage, I believe that when you expect your QBs to carry the ball that much, then they have to have practice dealing with the hits. I remember Paul Johnson - and Jeff Monken, now the head coach at Army - left the QBs live at Georgia Southern. I think one of last year's issues with keeping the ball on the zone-read was that the QBs were nervous about the hits. I don't know that with anything approaching certainty, but it stands to reason. Or maybe they were just told not to keep it. Either way, the QBs never being a considerable threat to run is one thing that shut down Auburn's ground game in 2015.
Whoever the QB is in 2016, be it Franklin, White, Johnson, Tyler Queen, etc, they have to know what it's like to get hit. No one knows how they'll take getting hit until they get hit. Having the QBs perform live in an actual game situation is about the best possibly way I can think of for Gus & Co to evaluate who can handle the pressure best. It's different when you know they're coming for you and have the green light to put you down.
It alters so much about choosing which QB is the best. How does a QB take pocket pressure in a game when he's never been worried about getting hit in practice? Does he lose concentration? Suddenly make bad reads or overthrows? You don't know until they get in the game unless you put them in that situation in practice.
You've heard the phrase "practice like you play," I'm sure. In the Army, we have a similar saying: Train like you fight. It needs to be as realistic as possible. I understand the worries with injuries in football, but there's also the chance that teaching them how to take - or realistically avoid - hits can help prevent injuries during a game.
So, Should We Worry?
It's hard to say, really. I'll say that there are so many factors that go into it, but I really can't say anything definitively about my personal opinion until I see the way he carries the ball. Judging by other QBs, though, I'd say there's plenty of precedents to not let it concern you too much.
What is certain, though, is that the QB in 2016 has to be able to keep the defense honest on the zone-read and that preparing them to take the hits by making them live in 2-3 scrimmages is probably the best way there is to judge who can handle that part of the duty best.