In the Argos home-opener at BMO Field, quarterback Ricky Ray left the game after suffering a neck injury in the third quarter, something the Argos say will keep Ray on the sidelines for “a significant period.”
It’s an injury that in the past would have left the team in a panic, scrambling to find a suitable replacement. That is certainly not the case this season.
The Argos have not been as comfortable with the team’s quarterback depth since Ray was backed up by Zach Collaros and Trevor Harris. Both James Franklin and McLeod Bethel-Thompson are more-than-capable backups, but after making a tough decision it will be the 26-year old Franklin who starts this Saturday’s game against Edmonton at BMO Field.
General Manager Jim Popp made the deal for the quarterback a couple of weeks after the Argos won the Grey Cup, sending offensive lineman Mason Woods to Edmonton for Franklin’s negotiating rights plus a 2018 third-round draft pick (WR Regis Cibasu).
There were a couple of reasons for the trade.
First, it was unknown what Ray was going to do. Would he retire after winning the Grey Cup or would he come back to try and win back-to-back championships? If he did opt to return, the 38-year old signal caller was in the twilight of his career and a game-ready successor was needed – just in case.
The more obvious reason to make the deal was much more simple; Franklin’s talent. Most CFL observers anointed the Missouri product as the backup most ready to become a starter. In the opportunities he had to show his stuff, including a couple of memorable appearances against Toronto, Franklin showed he was worthy of that praise.
He made his first CFL start against the Argos on August 18, 2015 at Commonwealth Stadium. Filling in for an injured Mike Reilly, Franklin threw for one touchdown and rushed for another in a 38-15 Edmonton win. He finished the game 29-38 for 355 yards.
A year later, in the final game of the regular season, Franklin got another opportunity to start against Toronto at Commonwealth. He threw four first half TD passes en route to a 41-17 win, finishing with 335 passing yards.
But now the former Argo killer is wearing Double Blue and will get the chance to start Saturday against his former team.
“We’re going to go with James,” head coach Marc Trestman told reporters after Monday’s practice. “We’ll give him the reps this week. We’re not anointing him, but he certainly deserves to get a full week of practice in knowing that he’s going to be the starting quarterback.”
Backup players at every position have to be prepared every week as if they’re starting. Each substitute is one hit away from being thrust into playing with the first unit.
With that said, does Franklin change his mental approach knowing well in advance that he’s QB1 this week?
“A little bit,” admitted Franklin. “It is a little bit different but I’m trying to look after it the same. I’m trying to prepare the same and hopefully be prepared come game day.”
When meeting Franklin for the first time he strikes you as an engaging and exceptionally polite man. Every question from a reporter is answered with a “Yes sir”.
Many Argonaut fans will get a chance to see Franklin in a starting role for the first time this weekend. Head Coach Marc Trestman was asked what those fans’ first impressions will likely be.
“He’s got excellent demeanor,” said the coach. “He’s an even-keeled guy. He’s a very good competitor. The team respects him and has confidence in his ability. It was very apparent last week when he played that they did. He took advantage of the opportunity I felt with the level of play he had without any reps during the week.”
Excellent demeanor, even keeled, and respect from the team. It sounds a lot like the man he’s replacing at quarterback, someone he’s watched intensely through training camp and the first two weeks of the regular season.
Franklin is in daily meetings with Ray, Trestman, Offensive Coordinator Tommy Condell and Quarterbacks Coach Anthony Calvillo, an incredible opportunity for the young pivot. Though he hasn’t worked with them for long, he’s been very attentive.
“I do learn a lot from them as far as how they view things,” admitted the QB. “It might not seem like a big deal, but just ways that I’d never thought of before and knowing they’re at where they’re at for a reason, and not to think I know it all and I don’t need to listen to them, but to try to take in everything that I can and apply it to my game.”
He gets a chance on Saturday to show what he’s learned.
You don’t have to go back too far to find a former Edmonton quarterback who made his first start as an Argo against the Eskimos. Ricky Ray did it in the first game of the 2012 campaign, and we all remember how that season turned out.