FOXBORO, Mass. – Justin Francis may look downright slim compared to Vince Wilfork, and they may typically play different positions, but that doesn’t mean the second-year defensive lineman can’t learn from the defensive captain and All Pro.
Francis has gleaned a lot from the 10-year veteran, both on and off the field. Francis picks Wilfork’s brain during practice, in meetings and even during the offseason. And it doesn’t all have to do with football.
“Everything from how to be a professional, all around, to how to be a father, how to be a friend,” Francis said. “You know, a brother, everything, man. He’s taught me a lot and he’s continuously teaching me. I really appreciate him for that. I just take everything I can learn from him. I just take it from him.”
Francis has lined up both inside at defensive tackle and outside at defensive end during his career. Listed at 6-foot-4, 270 pounds (even though he was measured at 6-foot-2 at the 2012 combine), he doesn’t have the strength or size as someone like Wilfork or Tommy Kelly. But trying to get in the backfield despite being smaller is where he can really learn from the veteran defensive tackles.
“That’s where I take from those guys,” Francis said. “They’re like, pass rush gurus on different techniques and different alignments. I take whatever they can give me, whatever information they think is best for me. I take and I run with it. Same goes for Rob Ninkovich. I take whatever I can from him, Chandler [Jones], everybody. We sit in the room and we critique each other and we learn from each other. That’s always good.”
Francis had a solid rookie year for the Patriots in 2012. His best game by far was Week 17 against the Dolphins when he picked up three sacks and one quarterback hurry. He’s been working with the first and second team during training camp, rotating in with Jones and Ninkovich. Francis, Jermaine Cunningham, Marcus Benard, Jake Bequette, Jason Vega and Michael Buchanan are probably competing for four spots on the roster. Out of those six players, Francis has the most sure-thing for a roster spot.