TORONTO — Starting games for the Toronto Argonauts is not entirely new for quarterback James Franklin.
Being the designated starter is, and that’s the key change for both him and club as it heads into the 2019 season.
Franklin was at the helm for six games in 2018 following a bad injury to incumbent Ricky Ray, during which he had some unimpressive performances. Now that the future Hall of Famer has retired, his replacement carries high expectations.
“Times can be difficult but just getting the experience in this training camp will be the best thing going into the season,” said Franklin, at an indoor practice this past weekend. “Really just getting the reps (is key).
“The more I can get the reps and play with the guys I will be playing with, the better the chemistry will be and the better we can perform on the field.”
Franklin came to Toronto from Edmonton by trade before the 2018 season, expecting to back up Ray for likely one season before taking over. Ray was hurt in Week 2, and that put the former Eskimos backup behind centre.
He had some unimpressive performances, passing for 2,304 yards, eight touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
Franklin entered the CFL after been signed by the Edmonton Eskimos in 2015. The 27-year-old quarterback had a solid career in college football for the University of Missouri and despite not being called in the 2014 NFL Draft, he signed a contract with the Detroit Lions for the 2014 Training Camp.
He didn’t make the Lions’ final roster for that season and was signed by the Eskimos one year later.
In Edmonton, though, Franklin didn’t have a lot of opportunities playing behind Mike Reilly, starting just three games in three seasons, despite solid numbers on those occasions (1,448 yds., 12 TDs, 1 INT). Then, the Argonauts decided to trade for the QB before the 2018 season.
Franklin’s situation under centre summarizes the difficulties faced in 2018 by the Argonauts’ offence, CFL’s second-worst in points per game with 20.5 points-per-game average.
That explains why the change at the quarterback position wasn’t the only one for Toronto offensively, as the team also hired new offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine.
The former receiver began his coaching career more than two decades ago and he’s now serving as the OC for his fifth CFL team. His career resume also has a head-coach job for the Montreal Alouettes during the 2016 and 2017 seasons and three Grey Cup titles as assistant coach (2001, 2006, and 2011).
Chapdelaine last coordinated an offence in 2015 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, when the franchise finished that season third overall in total yards, despite a 3-15 record.
The 57 year old sees Franklin in a distinct situation in 2019 compared to 2018.
“We are a new offence. So it’s not like he (Franklin) had the opportunity to see this offence all of last year,” said Chapdelaine, who will also tutor the Argonauts’ quarterbacks this year.
The coach approves what he has seen from Franklin in camp.
“He is growing tremendously, he’s showing great leadership, he’s very proficient at the system right now,” Chapdelaine said.
Failing to make the playoffs as the defending champions last season cost Marc Trestman’s job as the head coach. Former CFL Coach of the Year Corey Chamblin is back in Toronto, this time as team’s new HC.
Chamblin is known for his defensive knowledge which led the Saskatchewan Roughriders to the title in 2013. Fired after a winless 0-9 streak with the on the prairie in 2015, he worked as defensive coordinator, assistant head coach, and defensive backs coach for the Argonauts in 2017 before being hired by the University of Arkansas as a defensive backs quality control coach.
Now Chamblin is back to Toronto aiming for new things. And his ambitions surely go through Franklin’s performances.
While the coach “isn’t telling anyone” which adjustments he will make in Franklin for the new season, he knows exactly what his quarterback can bring to the table.
“He’s a dual threat. He’s a big guy and has a big arm that can push it downfield,” said Chamblin. “And if you don’t have him contained, he can get on the edge and turn some possible yards with his legs.”