All eyes were on the big quarterback wearing the green No. 1 jersey Thursday, each searching for the slightest tell.
James Franklin’s first public performance since he injured his shoulder during spring practice also doubled as Missouri’s first football practice of the fall, and it’s safe to say that everybody — reporters, spectators, even teammates and coaches — was eager to see how he looked.
The answer? Pretty darn good. Franklin, who is recovering from a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, ran with the first team the whole practice, showed some decent zip on the ball (though he later said he was holding back some) and apparently did well enough to catch his head coach’s eye.
“If you just walked out here and didn’t know he had surgery, you wouldn’t think anything was up,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.
That’s because there isn’t, if you ask Franklin. After Thursday’s practice, he said he hasn’t felt any discomfort in the shoulder in a little over a month. Turns out after making the switch from throwing Nerf footballs to real footballs, he got a little carried away, throwing 150 balls in four days.
“I was throwing them really hard, a lot harder than I did today,” Franklin said. “And it felt great.”
But the next week, Franklin said he felt soreness in the shoulder, which made him realize he better not rush his way back — a decision that seemed to pay off during Thursday’s light workout in helmets and shorts, after which coaches and teammates were positively optimistic about his health.
“He wasn’t throwing any bombs today, but he looked pretty normal today, as far as his arm strength,” said senior receiver T.J. Moe.
Moe said there are little things he saw that told him Franklin is ready to roll.
“Once he went to go throw, and the guy broke different then he thought he was going to,” Moe said. “So he pump-faked, pulled it all the way back, tucked it and ran. That’s how you can tell he was back to normal — you can’t do that with shoulder problems.”
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Franklin revealed Thursday that he originally injured the shoulder last summer and played with it all of last season, when he still managed to account for almost 4,000 combined rushing and passing yards and 36 touchdowns.
“I was throwing to one of the players and I hit my arm and kind of tweaked it,” Franklin said. “There were times it hurt really bad, especially during the bowl game.”
Not that it showed, of course. Franklin went on to win offensive MVP honors in last year’s Independence Bowl, as he keyed Missouri’s 41-24 win over North Carolina by throwing for 132 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 142 yards and two more, offering further proof that his toughness should never be questioned.
“There were times last year when he couldn’t walk until Wednesday,” Moe said.
“He might be limping around on Fridays, but as soon as you strap it up, he’ll be running over people on Saturday.”
However, don’t expect to see Franklin — nicknamed “The Tank” — do much scrambling in camp. He has long been intent on developing his passing ability and says he would prefer to do more throwing that running once the season starts.
“This year, I’ll probably be more cautious, just because of my shoulder,” Franklin said when asked how much running he’ll do. “I feel like I can run into a brick wall, but I still have to be safe about it.”
Starting offensive tackle Justin Britt suffered a Jones Fracture in his foot during three-cone testing a few weeks ago. He’s already had surgery on the foot, and is expected to be ready by the Sept. 1 season opener.
• *Offensive guard Mark Hill is not playing football this year, while senior defensive lineman George White has also left the program, according to team spokesman Chad Moller.