INDIANAPOLIS – This time a year ago, Colts players were getting a full indoctrination in the club's new 3-4 defense.
Ups were met with downs, achievements with struggles. Now in a second year, Indianapolis has supplemented the process with components in free agency and the draft.
While Bjoern Werner and Montori Hughes provide youth, Ricky Jean Francois and Aubrayo Franklin add veteran savvy.
Savvy for Franklin means 126 career games and what helped him achieve that tenure was early advice he learned to be versatile.
"In Baltimore in the year I got drafted, it was a veteran team that was pretty stacked everywhere inside," said Franklin. "Kelly Gregg was a player I looked up to. He and Marques Douglas mentioned to me to try to learn every position.
They pointed out that if someone went down, you could step in and you didn't want to limit yourself to one position. They told me I could play in this league and to better my chances by learning."
Playing time came more plentiful during the final two of his four years in Baltimore. Twenty-nine of his 36 appearances came in 2005-06, and his ability to play along the line increased his minutes and benefited some future seasons.
"It helped me a lot in Baltimore. My last two years there, we had drafted Dwan Edwards and Haloti Ngata. (The versatility) was big for me," said Franklin. "I started off as a nose tackle and my last year there I ended up playing more at end.
"I think it paid off, and I think it helped in San Francisco. A couple of times, we had some exotic alignments, and I was able to line up at end and rush."
Franklin joined the 49ers as an unrestricted free agent in 2007, joining the forces of coordinator Greg Manusky.
It was a pairing of player and coach that worked well for Franklin. In three of his four seasons there, he played in each game while never failing to open at least 13 outings.
San Francisco increased its victory totals in Franklin's second and third seasons and in 2009, the 49ers ranked third in the NFL with a 3.6 defensive rushing average.
Franklin had 36 tackles, two sacks and one interception that year, one his most productive seasons. His sacks came against two future Hall-of-Famers, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, and the sack of Manning came when Indianapolis had not allowed one in four games.
The Colts won that day, 18-14, with a late touchdown pass. After playing in a number of shootouts against the Colts while with Baltimore, Franklin remembers the nature of the 2009 game.
"It was different," said Franklin. "It was a fast-paced game, and they needed a trick play to beat us. Joe Addai hit Reggie Wayne with a touchdown pass in a close game. It was a tough game, and it took a halfback pass to beat us."
Franklin moved on to New Orleans in 2011 and to San Diego last season, both times signing as an unrestricted free agent.
His versatility has kept him attractive to franchises, and he is grateful for the years he amassed.
"First of all, is a blessing and the grace of God keeping me healthy," said Franklin. "Being in the trenches is tough. You can get banged on a lot, and a lot of guys come up injured. It's been a blessing."
Now with his fifth team, Franklin will plug himself in where instructed. Lessons of versatility imparted to younger players over the last decade still apply to today.
"Coach Gary (Emanuel) has emphasized he wants every player to play every position," said Franklin. "The motto of the NFL is, 'Next Man Up.' The more versatile as a front we can be and the more positions each guy can play, the better we will be. I think we can make a push."
Says Emanuel, "He can play the scheme and understands the importance of keeping the linebacker (free) from being tied up by blockers. He brings that, plus some experience and some toughness and leadership.
"You have a guy who has survived in the NFL for 10 years. You have to do something right to survive that long in this league. He brings a lot to the table."