Tulane nickel back Jarrod Franklin has perfect recall of the moment he tore three knee ligaments during spring practice last February. He also remembers the date (March 14) he had surgery to repair the issues a month later.
His plan going forward, though, is to make everyone forget he ever got hurt, and he is off to a good start. Picking up where he left off as a projected starter in 2014 before the injury, he turned heads in all three practices this week while working with the first-team defense.
The only reminder of his gruesome past: — he tore his MCL and his ACL and ripped off a piece of his meniscus in a collision with teammate Alec Macias on a blitz — was the knee brace team doctors forced him to wear.
“He got a lot of mental reps last year, and he’s doing so much better,” senior safety Darion Monroe said. “The knee is not bothering him. He’s trying to take the knee brace off, but they are not letting him yet. He’s a high-energy guy, and he’s a tweener between linebacker and a safety. That’s what we need.”
Franklin, a redshirt sophomore from University Lab, started twice at nickel back as a true freshman in 2013, finishing with 24 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and an interception. After losing him last spring, the Tulane defense never really regained its equilibrium because of his unique ability to play linebacker and defensive back.
Monroe moved from the back of the defense to nickel, but that left a hole at safety. When Monroe returned to safety, the Wave lost a playmaker closer to the line of scrimmage.
That dilemma ended with Franklin’s return.
“I’m doing the exact same thing I did last spring,” he said. “My knee feels very good, just like my other knee. I can’t feel the difference.”
Franklin established his presence during Tulane’s first spring practice Wednesday. First, he outfought receiver Devon Breaux for a pass in the end zone, turning an apparent touchdown into an interception with excellent timing.
“We all know Devon,” Franklin said. “He’s a jumping guy, so I knew I had to keep my leverage on him, lean on him and look for the ball.”
A little later, he was alert enough to pick off a pass that ricocheted off cornerback Parry Nickerson’s chest.
“We have to work on Parry’s hands a little bit,” he said jokingly of his teammate who led the Wave with six interceptions last season.
Franklin, positive by nature, never let his injury affect his attitude. He told his teammates he would be ready for 2015, returned to practice in late November, and returned to form this week.
“When he first got here his freshman year, he didn’t know anything,” Monroe said. “We used to call him scarecrow because we thought he didn’t have a brain. Now he knows the defense like the back of his hand.”
With holes to fill at offensive tackle and cornerback, the pecking order was clear in the first week of practice.
Sophomore Kenneth Santa Marina worked with the first-team offense at right tackle, replacing departed senior Sean Donnelly. Santa Marina, a heralded recruit from McDonogh 35, redshirted in 2013 and played sparingly last season while fellow 2013 signee Chris Taylor started both years at guard.
“He (Santa Marina) is very impressive,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “He’s jumped right in there. He was good. I like what he’s doing. He’s going to be good for us.”
Junior Todd Jacquet is backing up Santa Marina.
Junior Richard Allen is getting all of the reps at first-team cornerback opposite Nickerson, a spot that opened up when Lorenzo Doss declared for the NFL draft. Allen, from John Curtis, played primarily on special teams as a freshman and missed the last five games of 2014 with a sprained ankle after making five tackles.
“I just had a feeling that (Doss would leave),” Allen said. “I was already preparing my mind to come back and start. I’m glad he made that decision. I’ve heard he’s projected in the third round, and he opened up an opportunity for me.”
First day in pads
Tulane had its first day in full pads Saturday, and the highlight was an acrobatic catch by sophomore wide receiver Teddy Veal in the end zone. Tracking down a fade pass from Devin Powell, Veal leaped over a defender to cradle the ball while straddling the sideline.
“These backup offensive and defensive linemen have to learn how to practice, but for the most part we looked good,” Johnson said. “Those backs ran well, and (Veal was outstanding today. It was so freakish on the sideline. He caught it and made a great move (to get the feet in).”
Offensive guard Jason Stewart and defensive tackle Braynon Edwards struggled to run at all during wind sprints at the end of Saturday’s practice as they continued to battle weight issues.
Stewart is a redshirt sophomore from Warren Easton listed at 6-foot-4, 355 pounds. Edwards is a redshirt freshman from Miami listed at 6-2, 350 pounds.
“They made it through practice,” Johnson said. “Usually, they are lying on the sideline (by the end). “This is going to be a recurring problem throughout, but I think they’ll grow up as they get older and they’ll be fine.”
About 30 high school prospects attended Saturday’s practice, including four-star John Curtis offensive lineman Willie Allen. … Former Tulane kicker Cairo Santos, who went 25-for-30 on field goals in his rookie season with Kansas City, watched the workout. … Tulane will practice four times in each of the next three weeks, finishing the spring game on March 14 at Yulman Stadium.