EDMONTON — The kid from Texas had no clue about the CFL, its game, its history, its origins, even less about Alberta’s capital.
James Franklin would quickly immerse himself in his new surroundings and endear himself to the community with his church involvement.
Friday night he’ll enter a stadium he’s only known as home, only he’ll be on the opposing side as the Edmonton Eskimos play host to the Argos.
In the past, every Argos visit to Edmonton would invariably focus on Ricky Ray and the trade that sent the future hall of fame quarterback to Toronto in 2012.
Talk has quickly subsided with the presence of Mike Reilly and the Grey Cup the reigning CFL MOP would deliver the city.
With Ray sidelined with a neck injury, the starting job is now Franklin, who led the Argos to a win last Saturday over the Eskimos in his starting debut for Toronto.
On the eve of kickoff, Franklin absorbed the moment of being at Commonwealth.
He didn’t have a chance to look inside the visiting locker room, but he did provide this nugget when asked if he’d ever stepped foot into the opposing quarters.
As Franklin conveyed, he had to provide a urine sample last season as part of the league’s drug policy.
The location of the sample was inside the visiting team’s locker room.
“Strangely, it feels like a home game,’’ said Franklin, who is as respectful as any pro athlete one will ever meet. “Hopefully we can use it to our advantage and just mentally feeling better about it.
“It is nice to be back. People are giving me a hard time. ‘James, you’re home.’ I’m from Texas, but it is kind of my home.”
Finding a church group when he arrived in Edmonton proved valuable for Franklin as he began his indoctrination.
Making friends was easy and it’s why Franklin expects as many as 50 to be in attendance Friday night.
Franklin’s wife and daughter made the trip to Alberta, a visit that will be extended for Franklin’s wife as he reconnects with familiar faces.
“It was pretty good off the field,’’ said Franklin of his time in Edmonton. “We met a lot of good people and the people made us feel like home.”
In college, Franklin said he felt more at ease when playing on the road.
“I don’t know if it’s an advantage or disadvantage,’’ he said about playing in Edmonton as a visitor. “But I know I feel comfortable.”
Both the Argos and Eskimos are coming off a short week, a time head coach Marc Trestman used by keeping his players fresh.
“He had a good week,’’ Trestman said of Franklin. “I’m very pleased at how he’s working both on and off the field.”
Franklin led the Argos on their game-winning drive, a 12-play series that consumed for than seven minutes.
James Wilder Jr. took pressure off Franklin with his running performance, but it was Franklin’s ability to handle the run game that impressed Trestman.
“I thought he did a great job,’’ added Trestman. “We had a couple of calls that could have been cleaner, and I think a lot of that was due to practice time. Overall, James has been extremely efficient in meetings, in his preparation, game plan in going over the reads, he’s just been outstanding.
“He’s been able to carry it over into practice and practices have been run smoothly and efficiently. Practices are determined by the efficiency of the quarterback. If the quarterback isn’t efficient, practices look terrible. He’s done a good job of keeping the ball off the ground and competing because we don’t really compete their (Eskimos) defence. We compete against our defence.”
In beating the Eskimos 20-17, the Argos started fast and finished well, unable to mount much of anything offensively in the interim.
Explosive plays are what’s required in a pass-happy league such as the CFL and Franklin hooked up with Llevi Noel and Armanti Edwards.
There’s still plenty of games to be played and personnel changes to be made, but clearly the Argos haven’t had their share of explosive plays three games into the season, whether it’s on offence or on special teams.
Teams are always exploring options to add talent, which is why it shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn the Argos auditioned former NFL standout Dexter McCluster at Lamport, the same field where the franchise once oversaw a tryout involving Ben Johnson.
The CFL is about winning the turnover battle and producing explosive plays, a formula, when achieved, leads to wins.
NEWBIE BOATMEN HAVE CHANCE TO IMPRESS
The Argos are decidedly smaller in size and definitely more athletic in some areas, taller in other spots as the team shuffles the deck for its return game versus the Eskimos.
They are also short on experience in the wake of the changes.
For starters, Justin Tuggle, who normally lines up at rush end, will start at middle linebacker, an athletic body who can drop into coverage.
At rush end, Eric Striker will make his debut for the Argos, an undersized linemen recently acquired from the Riders.
Jonathan Dowling will make his CFL debut as the Argos go with more height and athleticism on defence, where Dowling is listed on the depth chart as a backup to starting SAM linebacker Cassius Vaughan.
Dowling can also drop into the secondary, if need be, but he looms as a valuable special teams player.
Offensively, the Argos will also usher in the CFL debut for Rodney Smith, a big, athletic receiver.
With Terrance Plummer and Akeem Jordan on the one-game injured list, Tuggle will be asked to fill the void at linebacker against an Edmonton team that likes to air it out.
Head coach Marc Trestman is keen on seeing what each player new to the team will bring, what kind of presence and impact, if any, they will have for an Argos team that essentially had two full days of practice.
The Eskimos are in the same boat having played the Argos in Toronto last Saturday.
WILDER GOES WEST
On his first visit to Edmonton, James Wilder Jr. spent some extra time looking at Commonwealth Stadium.
In his rookie season last year, Wilder missed Toronto’s one and only visit because of a concussion.
If the Argos are back this year it’ll be for the Grey Cup.
“Nice stadium,’’ said Wilder. “It looks nice.”
The business of football won’t allow Wilder to visit the West Edmonton Mall, but he has heard good things about the place.
“I heard there’s a roller coaster,’’ he said.
For Wilder, playing Edmonton’s defence has been a sort of a joy ride for the tailback, two games in which Wilder’s rushing presence has helped catapult the Argos to two wins.
If he’s able to emerge as a big-time factor Friday night, a third is likely.
“If felt good,’’ said Wilder of last week’s win. “We needed an overall team win. We were coming off two losses and the one (to Calgary) we got out butts whipped pretty bad.
“We needed that (win over Edmonton). We needed a morale, confidence booster and we’re looking at keeping that momentum going.”
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies