MacKinnon: It’s time for Eskimos to give rookie QB James Franklin a shot

 

Veteran Matt Nichols has not taken advantage of his opportunity with Mike Reilly injury

 
 
 
 
Edmonton Eskimos rookie quarterback James Franklin was more effective than starter Matt Nichols during Friday’s Canadian Football League game against the Hamilton Tiger Cats at Commonwealth Stadium.
 

Edmonton Eskimos rookie quarterback James Franklin was more effective than starter Matt Nichols during Friday’s Canadian Football League game against the Hamilton Tiger Cats at Commonwealth Stadium.

Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal

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EDMONTON - Hey, Chris Jones, it’s Franklin.

James Franklin, to be precise, the Edmonton Eskimos backup quarterback who should be elevated from that role to the office of starter. Stat, and for the foreseeable future.

Following the Eskimos’ 49-20 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Commonwealth Stadium on Friday night, the evidence is clear. Franklin is the team’s best option at quarterback right now. By far.

Well, at least until injured starter Mike Reilly returns from rehabbing his left knee sometime in September. But maybe beyond that still to be determined date.

Who’s to say when the Eskimos’ offensive leader and third-year starter will be ready to resume speed running the Eskimos offence, even if he is deemed fit and healthy?

The proof has been in the playing this Canadian Football League season that veteran backup Matt Nichols has not seized the opportunity handed him when Reilly was injured during Edmonton’s season-opening 26-11 loss to the Toronto Argonauts.

Yes, Nichols entered the fray on Friday night with a 5-1 won-lost record as the Eskimos starting quarterback, tops in the nine-team league.

But by just about any other measure, Nichols rated out the worst among CFL starters, his 76.9 quarterback efficiency score the most glaring metric of all.

Yes, Nichols’ effectiveness had been sabotaged by too many dropped passes by his own receivers this season.

Yes, the offence had been operating adequately despite a rash of injuries, including those to Reilly; offensive linemen Simeon Rottier, Greg Wojt and Alexander Krausnick; and Canadian receivers Shamawd Chambers and Nate Coehoorn, just for starters.

The middling performance of the offence cannot be placed wholly on the shoulders of Nichols. But enough is enough.

Jones revealed his own impatience with Nichols’ progress back on July 25, when he summarily yanked the veteran in favour of Franklin, who promptly clicked, leading the Eskimos to a 32-3 shellacking of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Sure, Franklin benefited from superb field position that night. And Jones mixed and matched Nichols and Franklin since then, perhaps trying to keep the veteran engaged and bring the 24-year-old Franklin along carefully, slowly.

Following the game, Jones invoked closure on the quarterback question, as is his wont.

“We’ll go back and we’ll look at the film,” Jones said. “I don’t want to be too judgmental after a loss like this.”

Asked about his decision to insert Franklin, Jones shut down the line of inquiry: “I’m not going to sit here and talk about the quarterbacks. We’re going to go back and work. We’ve got a good football team. One loss like this doesn’t necessarily define a football team. We’re going to go back to work and when we decide what we’re going to do at the quarterback position, we’ll let you know.”

Franklin is capable both of engineering scoring drives and displaying the sort of passing inaccuracy you often see with rookie pro quarterbacks. That’s not to mention the odd interception generated by a bad read or an ill-advised pass. So let him learn on the job.

On Friday night, Franklin completed 22 of 36 passing attempts for 254 yards, two TDs and one interception. Nichols went 12 for 19 for 138 yards, with one interception.

Nichols play was uninspired; Franklin’s radiated promise, even if he is still somewhat raw.

Jones had labelled the Tiger-Cats defence as the best he had seen during his pre-game media availability. Who could argue, especially the way the ball-hawking Hamilton secondary scored seven touchdowns this season — six on interception returns, one by way of a fumble recovery.

They are too good for any team, let alone the Eskimos helping them out with a rash of needless first-half turnovers.

The Tiger-Cats scored off five Eskimos turnovers, starting with that interception on the opening series and ending with a 106-yard TD run by defensive lineman Eric Norwood, who recovered an Eskimos fumble on his own three-yard line.

The Tiger-Cats were in firm command of every aspect and led 28-7 at halftime. It was 42-14 before Franklin found Devon Bailey in the corner of the end zone in the final 90 seconds of the third quarter.

Most of the smallish Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 28,858 were still in their seats on a chilly August night for football. Most of them had also cheered lustily when Franklin entered the game late in the first half, the Eskimos down 28-6.

Franklin promptly completed four straight passes as he led the Eskimos from their own 35-yard-line to the Hamilton 40, where the drive stalled.

Still, it was a preview of coming attractions, demonstrating yet again what Franklin is capable of doing, if not yet consistently. He is entertaining, which should matter to a 5-2 team that could not draw 30,000 to watch the Eskimos play another top team in the league.

The Eskimos defence, the best in the CFL this season by a whole passel of indicators, is going to have off-nights and they sure were off on Friday.

That’s when the offence has to pick them up, particularly when a hot hand like Hamilton QB Zach Collaros is slinging balls all over the field.

Until Reilly returns, Franklin is the best answer the Eskimos have.

jmackinnon@edmontonjournal.com

Twitter.com/rjmackinnon

Check out my blog at edmontonjournal.com/Sweatsox

 
 
 
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Edmonton Eskimos rookie quarterback James Franklin was more effective than starter Matt Nichols during Friday’s Canadian Football League game against the Hamilton Tiger Cats at Commonwealth Stadium.
 

Edmonton Eskimos rookie quarterback James Franklin was more effective than starter Matt Nichols during Friday’s Canadian Football League game against the Hamilton Tiger Cats at Commonwealth Stadium.

Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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