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Franklin shines in MU spring game

In battle for starting QB job

Missouri quarterback James Franklin throws a pass during the Tigers' spring game Saturday in Columbia, Mo.

Missouri quarterback James Franklin throws a pass during the Tigers' spring game Saturday in Columbia, Mo. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri quarterback James Franklin has been in this situation before.

Entering the 2011 Black and Gold Game, Franklin — then a sophomore with zero career starts — was battling for the starting quarterback job with fellow sophomore Tyler Gabbert.

But that spring game was the final leg of the competition. Gabbert transferred less than a month later and Franklin became the starter almost by default.

Two years later and with 21 starts under his belt, Franklin finds himself back in a competition, this time with redshirt freshman Maty Mauk and sophomore Corbin Berkstresser.

But having to fight for what has been his job for the last two years doesn’t seem to bother Franklin in the least.

Franklin had the best day of the potential starting quarterbacks as he completed 9-of-15 passes for 80 yards and no interceptions Saturday at Faurot Field.

“You can say there were injuries last year, but even when I did play, I wasn’t performing very well,” Franklin said. “So, I think I definitely I have to earn it.”

After a year riddled with injuries and struggles for a 5-7 Missouri squad, the starting quarterback job was declared to be open.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the team will release a depth chart with the quarterbacks soon, but he said he expects the race to go into August.

“It will be interesting how that sorts itself out,” Pinkel said.

Mauk struggled Saturday as he completed just 6-of-17 passes for 72 yards and two interceptions. Berkstresser, who started four games while Franklin was injured last year, completed just 9-of-18 passes for 93 yards and two interceptions. He also likely would have been sacked several times. In the controlled nature of the scrimmage, quarterbacks are not allowed to be hit.

“That was my first game coming back since high school,” Mauk said. “Obviously I started out a lot slower than I wanted to. I had a couple bad reads. Just to finish strong, I’m excited about it. I know what I’ve got to work on to go into fall camp. I’m ready to go.”

Franklin, who is healthy right now, said he was pleased for the most part with the scrimmage, expect for a few balls he left short.

“There were a couple throws I wish I could have put a little more oomph into them,” Franklin said. “Other than that I thought it was all right.”

A quarterback controversy has been rare under Pinkel. Since Brad Smith won the job prior to the 2001 season, Missouri’s quarterbacks have been fairly set going into the season. The exception has been in two of the last three seasons.

First-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson said he isn’t bothered with not having a starting quarterback nailed down right now.

“I think it would be natural to have more comfort to it being settled, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it’s not settled yet,” Henson said. “There are going to be a lot of positions on the team that aren’t settled yet. So I don’t know why the quarterback situation is any different than some of the others. You’re trying to get better. You’re trying to see who gives you the best opportunity to win games.”

Running back Henry Josey had 13 yards on eight attempts as he continues to work his way back from a devastating knee injury that ended his season in 2011.

Receiver Dorial Green-Beckham had three catches for a team-high 49 yards. Marcus Lucas led the way with five catches. Michael Sam had two sacks.

But the big question surrounding the spring game was if anyone could get an advantage at the quarterback spot.

Franklin spent his spring break working out in San Diego where he worked with quarterback expert George Whitfield Jr.

He said it helped him in nearly every facet of the game, noting quarterbacks coach Andy Hill told him it was like taking your car in for a tuneup.

“I learned about my release, footwork, pocket presence, just all of it,” Franklin said. “I’ve been trying to apply it to my game. It’s going slowly, but it’s been going good.”

Henson said it’s been a good competition, noting all three players get along off the field.

That’s been good for Franklin, who said he’s not bothered when Mauk needs pointers, even though they are competing for the same spot.

“I think it’s great for all of us to get better to know that anyone can win the spot, I can lose my job type of thing,” Franklin said. “I think it’s good for the team.”

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