Aubrayo Franklin took a week and a half family trip back in Tennessee this spring, visiting college campuses in hopes of helping one of his two younger sisters decide on the next few years of her life.
"My dad wanted her to go to one school and my stepmother wanted her to go to another, so I just told her she really had to make her own choice," said Franklin. "When it all comes down to it, she's the one who has to live with the decision and be committed to it."
After having gone through a similar process during last year's free agency process, Franklin could definitely relate to the stress of searching for a new home, and he only hopes his sister ends up in an equally happy situation as he is in San Francisco with the 49ers.
"Looking back, definitely, I am glad this is where I came," said Franklin. "I enjoy being here with these guys because we've really got a great group of guys. It's like a family. We are a young team that is willing to work and we want to get better, so I'm happy with my decision."
Franklin is also happy that the unsettled time is behind him. Instead of starting off an off-season worrying about where he would wind up, Franklin knew he had a home in the Bay Area to come back to and used his time off to concentrate on specifics areas of improvement.
"It's real different when you know where you are going to go because when you train in the off-season you can work on your weaknesses that you have in that defense," said Franklin. "Since we are in a 3-4, I wanted to work on my balance because I will be taking on a bunch of double teams. Hopefully that work will help me out this year."
Franklin spent most of his time this off-season in Atlanta, working out every day with 49ers right tackle Jonas Jennings.
"We've worked really hard this off-season," said Franklin. "We push each other, just like we do when we are out here on the field. He helps me out because he's an offensive lineman and I help him out because I'm a defensive lineman."
Much of Franklin's workout focus was on strengthening the leg that he injured twice last season. Initially, a sprained MCL in training camp shelved him for the preseason. He returned and played about half the season before suffering a calf injury that kept him out a few weeks.
"It was a frustrating season," said Franklin. "Missing the whole preseason and coming off the knee, it took me a couple of games to knock the rust off, and then once I started getting back in the groove, I had the calf. But, I don't think anyone likes getting injured and I'm never going to use that as a crutch. I still kept going out there and giving it my best. This off-season, I just wanted to make sure there were no lingering effects and that I trained right. Now, I'm looking forward to this season and hopefully I finish it without any injuries in order to help the team accomplish the goals we didn't reach last year."
Back in the 49ers fold for the team's mini-camp in early May, Franklin saw many reasons to be optimistic that those goals will be met in 2008.
"I felt that it was a lot smoother because last year we had added so many new guys on defense including myself," said Franklin. "It seems like this year we have more core guys who have played in this defense and we've seen our potential. We had some highs last year, but we also had some lows and I think this year we have the mindset to stay consistent and get better each game."
In this second year under defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, Franklin said the defense has taken on more of a personality.
"Our expectations are very high," said Franklin of his unit. "I think last year in some games, we'd excel in one area. One game we'd stop the run, another game we'd be all over the pass. I think this year everybody is on the same page because to be the elite defense – you have to be able to stop the run and stop the pass."
Although the line lost two valued members in Marques Douglas and Bryant Young, the organization picked up Justin Smith in free agency and Kentwan Balmer in the draft, players that Franklin knows his coach Jim Tomsula will get the most out of this season.
"I think all the guys on the line have learned so much from Tomsula," said Franklin. "He's got so much heart and enthusiasm and he gives so much to the game. I think it rubs off on us on the line, and I think it rubs off on other guys on the defense. If we go out and play with his heart and enthusiasm, I think we'll be more than alright this year."
Lastly, Franklin expects the defensive coaching staff to be even more aggressive in 2008.
"I think more will be put in this year since last year we all got a good taste of what it is and what is expected out of us," said Franklin. "Manny Lawson being back helps us be more versatile in the 3-4 and I think our communication is to the point where guys can afford to take risks out there and go for the big play. I think those things will allow Coach Manusky to add more to the mix."
Just as committed to the 49ers as he was a year ago when he signed, Franklin plans to be right in the mix of the things.
"I've worked very hard this off-season to try to get better so I can help the team out and help myself out," said Franklin. "I want to go out there and have a Pro Bowl caliber year, and whether I make it to the Pro Bowl or not, I think if I play at that level I can help do my part to make this team better."