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John Franklin III now a full-time wide receiver

Auburn wide receiver John Franklin III practices on Tuesday, March 7, 2017.
Auburn wide receiver John Franklin III practices on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

John Franklin III’s move to wide receiver is officially official.

Franklin shifted over to the position at the end of the first week of spring practice, but Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey said the former junior college transfer was still competing for the starting quarterback job.

“If John doesn’t win the starting job then he’s going to go play another position, but as of right now he’s definitely still in the mix,” Lindsey said on March 9 before an extended layoff for spring break.

Coach Gus Malzahn outlined Franklin’s new responsibilities after Tuesday’s practice.

“He could (take some reps at quarterback) but we’re really focusing primarily the rest of the spring just on his development at wide receiver and special teams,” Malzahn said. “We feel like he can be an impact player on special teams too.”

Franklin could also jump into the mix as a returner.

Kam Martin, Stephen Roberts, Ryan Davis and Eli Stove worked as the team’s kick returners during Tuesday’s open viewing window with Franklin at gunner.

“He’s got a chance,” Malzahn said of being a returner. “I think everybody knows when he’s got the ball in his hands that he’s got a unique ability to change the game.”

The decision ends Franklin’s career at quarterback without it ever really getting started on FBS level.

Franklin’s most notable achievement at the position might be the time he spent as former Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall on Florida State’s scout team leading up to the 2014 BCS National Title game.

After spending two seasons on the bench at FSU, he transferred to East Mississippi Community College where he backed up Wyatt Roberts. The season was chronicled on the Netflix docu-series “Last Chance U.”

Franklin’s failure to win the starting job was a prominent storyline in early episodes.

“(Wyatt) He’s extremely consistent,” EMCC quarterback coach Clint Trickett said in an episode. “He gets the ball where it needs to be, knows the offense in and out, but there’s no way he should be in a battle with John.”

Trickett described Franklin as a player with “every tool in the world,” but not a consistent enough passer to win the job.

Franklin had the same issues at Auburn where he was used primarily in a mop-up role behind Sean White.

When Franklin did see the field, the coaches showed little faith in his ability to throw the ball. Franklin grew frustrated late in the season with people reading into his lack of pass attempts.

“I don’t know where everybody get this thing that I can’t throw in the first place,” Franklin said. “I just run what’s called. I could always throw. It’s just getting my opportunities; that’s really it. I don’t know where it came from or where it started.”

Franklin finished the season 14 of 26 for 204 yards with a touchdown. He ran the ball 46 times for 430 yards with two touchdowns.

His final opportunity at quarterback came in the Sugar Bowl when White went down with a broken forearm, but Franklin wasn’t able to finish the game due to severe cramping in his throwing arm.

“It started locking up on me pretty bad and never settled down,” Franklin said. “Every time I was trying to grip the ball my fingers would lock up, so I couldn’t do much.”

Franklin knew it was a missed opportunity headed into another spring quarterback competition.

“I was real angry,” Franklin said. “I was mad because my opportunity was here and I couldn’t do anything with it. I was feeling real good coming in here at halftime, ready to go (back) in and that made me real frustrated.”

The frustration hasn’t extended to the spring where Franklin has embraced his new role.

“He has a great attitude and wants to help the team anyway he can,” Malzahn said. “He's really done a good job with that.”

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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