A year ago at this time, Orlando Franklin was trying to play the role of a 6-7, 312-pound sponge. Everything four-year starter Jason Fox taught him in practice about playing left tackle, Franklin said he stored away.
Monday, that extra tutoring reaped some reward when Franklin was named the ACC's Offensive Linemen of the Week after compiling eight pancake blocks and two lumberjacks (cut blocks) in a 31-3 win over Pittsburgh last Thursday. The start was only his fifth at left tackle since moving over from left guard and it was further evidence Franklin is growing more comfortable with the responsibility of covering the quarterbacks' blind side.
According to UM, Franklin has graded out at 95, 96, and 96 percent with 12 pancake blocks and he's yet to give up a sack in three games.
"I'm pretty comfortable, but there are still a few things that get me," said Franklin, who points to pad level as an area in which he wants to improve. "I give Fox [now with the Detroit Lions] a call after every game, ask him if there is anything I could be doing differently... there's always room for improvement."
The Hurricanes' offensive line does not have an easy task in front of it Saturday at Clemson. The Tigers are tied for 10th nationally in sacks (UM is 2nd) with 3.33 sacks per game. Franklin, who has yet to give up a sack this season, figures to have his hands full with Andre Branch, a 6-5, 260-pound junior who is tied for the Tigers' team lead with three sacks.
On the other side, senior Joel Figueroa (who went back to taking some snaps at guard this week), redshirt freshman Jermaine Johnson and freshman Seantrel Henderson will have the responsibility of trying to slow down 6-4, 275-pound junior Da'Quan Bowers, who also has three sacks and is considered a future NFL First Round pick. Last week at Pitt, Figueroa and Johnson were both beaten for sacks, including one that left quarterback Jacory Harris' left shoulder "nicked," according to coach Randy Shannon.
Franklin said Wednesday he's looking forward to the head-to-head battles -- including the way Henderson (6-8, 355) handles them. Franklin said he's been trying to play the role of mentor to the freshman phenom, who is expected to receive a larger role Saturday after getting in on eight plays (mostly in goal-line and rushing situations) at Pitt.
"I try to sit with him and talk to him, let him get a better understanding of the game," Franklin said. "In high school, you're not really taught anything. Then, you come here and they throw everything at you. I know it's hard. I keep stressing to him -- if he sticks with it, he's going to learn it. The more you repeat it, the easier it is to learn. "
Franklin said he's seen Henderson, rated the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country last year coming out of high school, make big strides over the past couple of weeks in practice and said he thinks Henderson has a "pretty good" understanding of the playbook. He just wishes Franklin had a saavy veteran playing next to him.
"The thing about it is he doesn't have a guy like Fox sitting right beside him like my freshman year," Franklin said. "If I messed up with a call, Fox would have corrected me right before the play even started.
"[But] that kid is going to be real exciting. I'd hate to see how that kid is going to look a year from now when he really knows everything about this game. It's going to be pretty exciting to watch that kid."
NOTES FROM WEDNESDAY'S PRACTICE AND SOME LEFTOVERS...
PRACTICE IN RAIN: Despite heavy rain in the area because of Tropical Depression 16, Shannon said the Canes were able to get in a full practice Wednesday morning. "We did some good stuff today," Shannon said. "It was good to practice in the rain, just the concentration part of it."
"You always get worried about it the day before, have to make alternate plans. But we came out this morning and the field wasn't flooded and the lightning rods were out. We did some live stuff, ones against ones, pass rush stuff, third downs, red zone stuff just to keep us sharp."
RED ZONE FOCUS: Much like gang tackling was a focus last week before the Pitt game, red zone scoring has become a major emphasis for the Canes this week in practice.
UM scored points on 43 of its 53 drives a year ago (81 percent) including 34 touchdowns (64 percent). This season, the Canes have driven into the red zone 13 times in their first three games and have scored 10 times (77 percent). They've scored eight touchdowns (61 percent).
"Last year, I remember it seemed like everytime we got in the red zone, we were getting in the end zone," Franklin said Wednesday. "It hasn't really been the same this year. Kicking field goals looks good -- it's great to help out [kicker] Matt Bosher. But we're not really trying to major in that."
TEAMMATES SAY JACORY HARRIS IS FINE: Throwing six picks in two games might rattle most quarterbacks. But according to Sean Spence, Marcus Forston, center Tyler Horn and receiver LaRon Byrd, Jacory Harris is just fine and focused on Clemson.
"He's going great," said Forston, was also Harris' former high school teammate at Miami Northwestern. "Like I tell him, make the people stop talking about the interceptions. If you keep doing what your doing, making plays, we keep on winning, everything is going to be all right."
Said Spence: "You can't break Jacory's spirit. He's still the same old Jacory. Jacory has been here for three years. Even the greats throw interceptions. Peyton Manning. Brett Favre. He just has to keep firing."
Shannon told WQAM's Joe Rose Tuesday morning that his receivers need to battle more for the ball. Shannon told us last Thursday that four of Harris' six interceptions were receiver Travis Benjamin's fault. Byrd said Tuesday it's up to the receivers to make the play on balls up for grabs -- regardless if they're small like Benjamin (5-11, 176).
"When that ball is in the air, it's the job of the receiver to make that play," Byrd said. "You either knock it down or take the 15-yard penalty. But you don't let him catch it... You always want you to have your quarterback trusting your receivers. When they get to the point where he's not throwing it up, then that should be the question. But as long as the ball is in the air, the receiver has to make the play."