Jean Francois looks to be mainstay on 49ers D-line

Ricky Jean Francois entered his second year with the San
Francisco 49ers intent on gradually establishing himself as a
mainstay in the team’s defensive line rotation.

Then the 49ers designated starting nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin
as their franchise player in March.

That changed everything for Jean Francois, the defensive lineman
out of LSU, not to mention accelerating the timetable of his
development.

With Franklin missing all of San Francisco’s offseason workouts
while seeking a contract extension, and continuing to stay away
throughout the first week of training camp, Jean Francois has been
thrust into a starting role at one of the most pivotal positions in
the 49ers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

He hasn’t disappointed. Now a robust 310 pounds after an
offseason of extensive training, the 6-foot-3 Jean Francois has
stood out as one of the more active and impressive defenders during
the team’s two-a-day practices.

”Ricky, across the board, playing nose, is doing a good job and
doing all the right things,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky
said. ”He’s still got a lot to learn, but we’re happy with the
progress that he’s making.”

As San Francisco’s seventh-round draft pick last year, Jean
Francois learned a lot by watching defensive linemen ahead of him
on the depth chart such as Franklin, who had a career season in
2009. Franklin recorded 88 tackles and spearheaded San Francisco’s
rising defense from the point of attack.

Franklin played so well clogging the middle and allowing
playmaking linebackers such as Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes to
run free last season that he became one of the most sought-after
defensive linemen on the free-agent market this year.

The 49ers secured his services for 2010 with the franchise
designation, but Franklin still has not signed the team’s one-year
tender offer of $7.003 million. He might forgo the training camp
grind before signing well into this month.

But with Jean Francois taking the first-team reps at nose
tackle, Franklin’s absence hasn’t been a big issue. There is more
talk now of Jean Francois’ emergence and his ability to make his
own mark in the middle of the trenches.

”If and when Aubrayo comes in, I’m happy,” Jean Francois said
Saturday. ”But if he stays out longer, we can’t sit here and worry
about it. We can’t lose a beat. In fact, we have to make the beat
faster. So I figure I have to be that person to hit the drum a
little faster.”

Jean Francois has been impressive this week with his speed off
the ball and improved technique that gives him leverage against
larger offensive linemen.

He also has packed on 25 pounds of muscle since the end of last
season, a development that has made Jean Francois a viable
candidate to play on the nose after entering the NFL weighing 285
pounds. He took the initiative of daily regimens in the weight room
with the team’s workout warriors such as linemen Isaac Sopoaga,
Justin Smith, David Baas and Eric Heitmann.

”I got here at 5:30 a.m. every day and hit the ground
running,” Jean Francois said. ”I wanted to be the strongest guy
here and lift more than anybody. I had to stay in the weight room
every day to get to the point that I’m on the elite level with
other players. I wanted to be the one to set the standard.”

Now Jean Francois is setting a standard on the field that could
earn him regular playing time this season regardless of when
Franklin joins the team.

During Saturday’s morning practice, Jean Francois again caught
everybody’s attention by hustling down the line of scrimmage to
blow up a screen pass. He has been running sideline to sideline to
get in on plays and make tackles since camp began.

”This is a privilege for me,” Jean Francois said. ”Now I want
to get to the point where when we play a team, they have to change
their blocking scheme for me. I love the responsibility this team
is putting on my back. If everything’s on my back, I might even
carry the team. It’s not that heavy.”

In other news Saturday, the 49ers said Ahmad Brooks has a kidney
laceration and will be evaluated in two weeks.