FOXBORO, Mass. – Justin Francis is just trying to keep it fun at Gillette Stadium as one training camp practice piles onto another.
On Monday, the second-year defensive end was out there in a hooded sweatshirt as the August Foxboro sun beat down on the Patriots’ practice fields. He was the only one adding some extra discomfort to an already hot ninth training camp practice.
“Yeah, see, you gotta make it harder on yourself sometimes,” Francis said. “You got to build that mental toughness. So, I felt like I had to come out today and get a little sweat on. It’s a little cool out here.”
Francis is likely to earn a roster spot, just as he did out of training camp last year, but there’s a lot of competition at his position. Francis tries to keep it light out on the practice field, unlike his wardrobe. Francis was spotted playing some air guitar while “Born to Run” blared out of the speakers as the Patriots were warming up last week.
“We all out here getting a little groove on when we do have time,” Francis said. “It’s fun again being out here — all the fans, all of our family, all of the teammates and everything. It’s good, man. Got some good music, good vibes, competition and it’s a great feeling, man. I love it.”
Francis went to school at Rutgers in New Jersey, home of The Boss, so he’s heard some Bruce Springsteen in his day. He threw a fist pump out while a live version of “Jungleland” blared out of the speakers on Friday.
“Yeah, a little bit of Springsteen is in me, man,” Francis said laughing. “We used to go in the weight room, lifting to a little bit of Bruce. It’s always a little bit of respect there for Bruce. I come out here and rock out. And it’s a good feeling.”
The team travels to Philadelphia on Monday for joint practices Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Their first preseason game is Friday, then they come back for another week of training camp at Gillette before the Buccaneers come to town. Francis did admit the process can be a grind.
“Especially when it gets real, real, real, real, real, real hot out here,” Francis said.
Francis could have some extra comfort this year during training camp because it’s his second year in the league. Or because he has so many former teammates around the facility now. There are nine former Rutgers players on the roster. Francis is trying to show the rookies, Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon, Steve Beauharnais, Brandon Jones, Mark Harrison and Scott Vallone, the way.
“Of course, man. It’s a good feeling,” Francis said about showing his former teammates the ropes with the Patriots. “I know how they feel. I felt the same way when I came in. I had a couple of Rutgers guys here. It’s been a little transition for those guys and of course, like I did to Devin [McCourty] and Alex [Silvestro] and guys like that, I just give them as much information as I can, help them as much as I can and watch them learn the ropes as well. Like I said, I’m still young myself. And I’m still learning myself.”
Francis also knows what improvements those rookies need to make throughout the season. Bill Belichick said during his morning press conference that players show a lot of improvement on the field and in the weight room from Year 1 to Year 2. Francis is trying to improve in all facets of the game between his first and second seasons.
“I think I needed to improve everything,” Francis said. “My speed, my strength, agility, quickness, awareness of the game. All that comes with playing football. Especially if you have a passion for the game and the respect for the game, you’re going to elevate every aspect of your game. That’s pretty much what Bill has all of us doing. It’s a good feeling to come out here and just run around with all your guys. You can see everybody elevating all their game.”
Francis had three sacks, eight quarterback hits and five hurries his rookie year in 302 total snaps. He’ll try to improve on those numbers as he moves around the defense this season. He can play anywhere from three-technique defensive tackle to outside linebacker due to his versatility and size.
“I’ve been playing football like that for quite some time now,” Francis said. “So, it’s a good feeling, you know. Being versatile is always a good thing. It’s always a plus, too. You just gotta work a little bit harder and learn a little bit more and do a little bit more things. But hey, that’s my profession, that’s what I love. That’s what I love to do.”