BOURBONNAIS — The big difference at cornerback for John Franklin III this summer is that now he actually knows how to play it. Funny how that changes things.
Franklin is gunning for a roster spot with the Bears and has far more realistic hopes than a year ago when he was a quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-corner just learning to backpedal.
“I didn’t even know how to get in the stance,” he said, laughing. “I was playing off pure athleticism. Now I play with technique.”
The Bears still thought he was talented enough to be a project, and Franklin’s physical and mental improvements over the last year have him in the competition for a backup corner job. At the start of training camp, coach Matt Nagy had this assessment: “There’s some rawness to him, but he has the skill set.”
Teams typically keep six or seven cornerbacks, and the Bears have six who are thought to be locks: All-Pro Kyle Fuller, starter Prince Amukamara and slot man Buster Skrine, plus reserves Sherrick McManis, Duke Shelley and Kevin Toliver II.
That leaves little room for Franklin, but he hasn’t bothered doing the math. He believes he has been playing at an NFL level. That’s all the validation he needs.
“I’ve produced a lot in camp and been consistent,” he said. “Now it’s about stacking days together. It’s not a surprise when I make a play. I’ve been playing to where I should make this team, but that’s not my decision.”
The Bears signed Franklin as an undrafted rookie last year after a bizarre college career at Florida State, East Mississippi Community College, Auburn and Florida Atlantic.
If he was known for anything, it was being featured prominently on Netflix’s ‘‘Last Chance U’’ docuseries during his 2015 season at EMCC. He wants to turn that into a footnote.
The Bears have given him an opportunity to do that, though it has been far less glamorous than being on TV. He spent part of last season on the practice squad learning under former secondary coach Ed Donatell and benefitted from the stability of being in the offseason program and returning for camp as opposed to starting over with a new team.
And even if Franklin doesn’t make the cut when the Bears chop the roster from 90 to 53 at the end of the month, he’s worth keeping around. Being on the practice squad would keep him ready in case of an injury, and the team should hang on as long as it can to see where this goes.
“So much can happen in a year, but I’ve got so much more to go,” he said. “I’m not really where I want to be yet, but after seeing what one year of training hard at corner can do, I’m kinda scared to see what I can do in the next couple of years.”