Rules favor the offense in arenafootball2, so playing any defensive position is a chore. Linemen aren’t allowed to stunt or twist. The ‘Mac’ linebacker can blitz, but he’s limited to lanes on either side of the center. The ‘Jack’ linebacker must stay within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Then there’s the middle defensive back spot, which just might carry the toughest job description in pro sports, according to Spokane Shock head coach Adam Shackleford.
“You’re looking at covering a (receiver) that runs 4.4 or 4.3, that’s running full speed at you and you are in a back pedal,” Shackleford said.
“I’ve seen NFL guys have trouble with it,” added defensive backs coach Rob Keefe, an ex-af2 and Arena Football League DB.
Now, try doing it as an af2 rookie accustomed to the outdoor game on a spacious 100-yard field. Welcome to Stanley Franks’ world.
“It really takes some getting used to,” said Franks, the former Idaho Vandals cornerback whose nine interceptions was tied for first nationally in 2006. “It’s a lot of repetition, getting coached up and trusting your technique, but it’s a little difficult starting out.”
All three secondary positions are difficult. Most af2 teams have capable receivers and defensive backs, but the cream of the crop resides at middle DB and the receiver who is typically in “high motion” with a 15-yard head start.
“For a rookie with no experience in the arena game to put up the numbers he’s put up … he’s been a solid player,” defensive coordinator Alex Sirianni said of Franks. “His progress from week 1-5, 5-10 and 10-16 has been amazing. At the beginning of the season, obviously you’re going to have struggles. He had to learn that you are going to get scored on. It’s part of the game.”
Franks admittedly didn’t care for that part of the game.
“I remember coach Keefe told us early if you give up four touchdowns and have a pick you’ve had a good game,” Franks said. “I kind of looked at him like, ‘Huh? Are you serious?’ But in arena ball that’s a good day.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve fully got the hang of it, but every week you see different routes and see how different players run their routes. I’m watching more film and I’m getting more comfortable handling the motion. It’s definitely an offensive game, so when you do make a play it’s that much better.”
Franks has eight interceptions, 18 pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He finished one tackle short of breaking Alex Teems’ single-season record of 98 in 2007.
To get to where Franks could put up those statistics, he had to endure a rough first month of on-the-job training.
“He would kind of get down on himself, beat himself up, but now he knows its part of the game,” Keefe said. “Now he realizes an interception is a lot more valuable to us than a touchdown is to them.”
Franks was with San Diego in NFL training camp and then was set to join San Jose, but the AFL canceled its 2009 season.
“San Jose said out of the hundreds of players they worked out, he was the finest prospect,” Shackleford said.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Franks generally defends the opposition’s best receiver, whether it’s a 5-10 speedster or a rangy 6-5 possession receiver.
“That’s what makes our secondary so good is we see it every day at practice. (Charles) Dillon, (Raul) Vijil, nobody can cover Raul when he runs his routes. Then we have big bodies like Andy (Olson), Markee (White) and (Patrick) Bugg,” Franks said. “Most of the time, I’ll see a speedy guy, but when they get closer to the goal line they like to throw in a bigger guy.”
Keefe said Franks “would be in the NFL if he was 2 inches taller. It’s a shame to say that, because it shouldn’t matter.”
Franks is trying to climb the pro football ladder but admits his affection for the arena game is growing.
“I’m curious to see how I’d react to the outdoor game now,” he said. “The fans make (af2) so much fun. It’s fast, quick-hitting, the walls. If you knock a guy over the boards, it’s a big hit. I basically fell in love with the game.”
Even though he’s playing arguably the toughest position on the field.
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