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.