Story by Alex Silverman
Photos by Kelsey Alumbaugh
Missouri quarterback James Franklin wore a smile and had a few laughs at practice Tuesday despite being relegated to the sideline, where he’ll remain for the rest of spring, by a torn labrum. It’s that smile that has head coach Gary Pinkel believing that Franklin will be back on the field sooner rather than later.
“So much of it is him having a great attitude and believing he can get better and heal 100 percent in a timely way,” Pinkel said. “He’s a pretty special guy. He’ll heal quick. He works tremendously hard in the training room.”
Franklin was injured in practice on March 14 after diving for a fumble and ending up at the bottom of a scrum. He underwent shoulder surgery on March 23 and has had his arm in a sling since. Junior wide receiver Marcus Lucas said the injury didn’t catch him or his teammates off guard.
“It was something that James had been battling with since the season so it wasn’t something that was just completely unexpected,” Lucas said. “It’s just something that he’s been going through since he took a big hit in the Texas game. Ever since then, it’s something we knew was kind of coming.”
Though confident in Franklin’s ability to heal quickly, Pinkel wouldn’t guarantee that Franklin would be ready for the start of Missouri’s first season in the Southeast Conference. While he doesn’t expect Franklin to miss any games, Pinkel said injuries serve as a reminder of how important it is to have his second string players ready.
“If you’re a backup player, (you have to) get yourself in position where you’re ready to play,” Pinkel said. “We all know that’s difficult, especially at the quarterback position, to have high level guys back to back just come in, but that’s what you strive to do.”
At quarterback, that starts with freshman Corbin Berkstresser, who ascended to the top of the depth chart when Franklin was hurt. Berkstresser led the first team offense on March 17 in the first spring scrimmage, completing 10-of-25 passes for 105 yards. With the team’s second full scrimmage scheduled for Saturday, Berkstresser expects more from himself and the first unit.
“I was somewhat nervous in the first scrimmage, if y’all didn’t notice,” Berkstresser said. “(Now) our chemistry is better, our timing is better, and we can only improve from here on out.”
Lucas also acknowledged improvement in Berkstresser’s game since he joined the first team offense and stressed that with an inexperienced quarterback under center, the receiving corps has to help make things easier for him.
“Corbin’s out there doing great,” Lucas said. “He’s putting balls where they need to be… It’s a lot of pressure on Corbin, but we know as receivers we have to take away some of that pressure and make plays for him.”
Tuesday’s practice was the Tigers’ first since returning from spring break. Berkstresser spent his time off with a few teammates at sophomore defensive lineman Keric Lickerman’s house on the beach in Florida. While there, Berkstresser threw balls on the beach and worked on his drops. Berkstresser said he enjoyed the time off, but was anxious to get back on the field.
“Once I got out there for about two days, I missed the game,” Berkstresser said. “I was ready to get back to reality and playing football.”
As Tuesday’s practice came to a close, Berkstresser was the last Tiger off the field. He spent extra time working with offensive coordinator David Yost before heading off to address the media. When razzed by a member of the training staff for being slow to get off, the freshman responded like a veteran:
“First one on, last one off.”