Johnathan Franklin struggles to find his way so far

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Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, August 20, 2013

GREEN BAY—For every mid- to late-round draft choice who exceeds early expectations, another one doesn't.

Take cornerback Micah Hyde, the Green Bay Packers' fifth-round draft choice from Iowa, and running back Johnathan Franklin, a fourth-round pick from UCLA.

Neither player was drafted on the basis of his speed or athletic ability. The Packers were attracted to them largely because of their resourcefulness at the major-college level.

Hyde has made a seamless transition to the pro game. Sure, he has speed limitations but seems to understand that and plays to his strengths.

On Saturday night in St. Louis, Hyde put on a pass-rushing clinic from the slot.

Even when Hyde didn't get through, his timing was superb, and it required a good effort in blitz pickup by the Rams to subdue him.

When the Rams' backups were discombobulated in their protections, as is commonplace in the nonpreparation world of exhibition football, Hyde kept finding circuitous routes right into the quarterback's lap.

Charles Woodson and LeRoy Butler would be proud. The Packers need a legitimate rusher in their secondary, and Hyde could be it.

“He's what you thought he'd be,” an executive in personnel said after watching the Packers. “Competitive. Smart. Probably can't ever line up outside for you. Can play the slot. May end up being a safety at some point in time.

“He has to use his body and be in really good position to be a cover guy. You've just got to be careful how you use him. The kid's not a bad player.”

On the other hand, Franklin's game, based on the offseason and first three weeks of training camp, hasn't fit as well in the NFL.

Franklin, 5 feet, 10 inches and 205 pounds, can't get out of neutral. He rushed seven times for 17 yards in the intrasquad scrimmage and nine for 23 in the first two games.

It's just 16 carries, but Franklin's average of 2.5 yards is about on par with the way he has practiced, too.

With Randall Cobb injured and possibly being phased out of the return game, the Packers have been force-feeding Franklin into a role he never played for the Bruins. He has encountered some ball-security issues in practice and hasn't done anything returning in games.

The scouts said he ran hard from scrimmage in college, but that hasn't been evident in the pros. Renowned for his pass protection, he's been only adequate there.

“He looks like his numbers,” a personnel man said. “He's not a real impressive guy. He plays small, and he doesn't play fast.

“I kind of liked him in college because he was so productive. But if you didn't know he was a draft pick, you'd think he was a free agent.”

Eddie Lacy looked even better on tape than he did live. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith wasn't in good position on two or three of Lacy's runs, but the rookie helped him by making great reads, powering through trash and making sharp, educated cuts.

It's hard to know what to make of Alex Green. He doesn't get in until the second half, and his reads haven't been sharp.

The first snap for James Starks came with 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter. His 15 carries for 42 yards (2.8-yard average) in the two games compared to 12 carries for 31 yards (2.6-yard average) for Green.

Starks didn't help his cause with some shaky pass blocking. Rather than take blitzing safety Cody Davis down the middle, he hit him with a glancing shoulder. Later, Starks ducked his head and made almost no contact with leaping linebacker Ray Ray Armstrong, although he might have been trying not to impede B.J. Coleman in the pocket.

Mike McCarthy benched Starks after he bounced a poorly blocked inside run to the perimeter and fumbled once he got there.

Last week, DuJuan Harris put on pads for the first time but was limited because of a troublesome knee. If Harris can return to his 2012 form, the Packers probably view Lacy and Harris as their ideal 1-2 punch.

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