Who are these Guys? Robert Francois, D.J. Smith and Evan Dietrich-Smith

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Aaron Rodgers has hogged most of the highlights for the 11-0 Green Bay Packers this season, and rightfully so. The frontrunner for NFL MVP had to make a little room for some newcomers in Thursday’s win over the Detroit Lions, however.

Offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith and linebackers Robert Francois and D.J. Smith stepped in after injuries to starters and left their mark on the Packers latest victory. Unknown players stepping up when needed has become a trend for the Packers over the last two seasons.

Who are these latest unknowns and where did they come from?


Evan Dietrich-Smith


How he got here:
Cut by the Packers at the end of training camp in 2010, Dietrich-Smith resigned with Green Bay in Week 17 and remained on the roster throughout the postseason. The Packers originally signed Dietrich-Smith as an undrafted free agent out of Idaho State in 2009. He was the only undrafted player to make the team.

Why he’s here: Dietrich-Smith has the athleticism to play all three interior OL positions. He can also handle a zone blocking scheme. At Idaho State, the 6-2, 308-pounder started 44 games and received All-Conference honorable mention four times.

Memorable moment: The kick heard ‘round the Midwest. Dietrich-Smith replacstandout G Josh Sitton in the second quarter of Thursday’s game against the Detroit Lions and was immediately matched up against Ndamukong Suh. Dietrich-Smith held his own against Suh. After taking Suh to the ground on a 3rd and goal play, Suh repeatedly drove Dietrich-Smith’s head into the turf before getting up and kicking the Packers backup in the arm. Suh was ejected and likely will get suspended.

Future outlook: If Sitton remains out, it will be Dietrich-Smith’s time to shine. He won’t come close to filling Sitton’s shoes, but with the way Aaron Rodgers and this offense is going, he doesn’t have to. Looking further down the road, there’s an outside shot Dietrich-Smith could enter a competition to start at center next season if the Packers don’t resign Scott Wells.

 

Robert Francois

How he got here: A teammate of B.J. Raji at Boston College, Francois entered the NFL in 2009 as an undrafted rookie with the Vikings. The 6-2, 255-pound LB was on the Packers active roster twice and the practice squad three times in 2010.

Why he’s here: The Packers lost Desmond Bishop and A.J.Hawk to calf injuries on Thursday and Francois carried on the Packers recent next man up tradition. Francois went undrafted in 2009, but received marks on his pro day workout. Francois worked with the defensive backs on Boston College’s pro day and actually looked better than most of the secondary prospects.

Memorable moment: Francois appeared in one preseason game with the Lions in 2009 before being waived. He got his revenge on Thanksgiving. Francois picked off Matthew Stafford in the third quarter and one play later, Rodgers connected with James Jones on a 65-yard TD that gave the Packers a 21-0 lead.

Future outlook:. In addition to his leaping interception, Francois had tackles on the two previous plays before the pick. If Hawk or Bishop don’t return, communication on defense could become an issue. As far as what happens after the ball is snapped, it’s never good to lose a starter, but after what the Packers did last season, I don’t think we’d notice much of a dropoff without Hawk. Bishop, however, would be noticeable.

 

D.J. Smith

How he got here: The Packers drafted Smith with the second of their three 6th round picks in the 2011 draft.

Why he’s here: At Appalachian State, the 5-11, 239-pound Smith was a tackling machine. By the time his college career ended, Smith was the NCAA Division I FCS active leader in tackles in with 525. Smith showed off his nose for the ball on Thursday and finished with five tackles.

Memorable moment: Immediately after coming in for Bishop, Smith nailed Lions RB Kevin Smith for no gain. He also made an open-field tackle – something the Packers defense has struggled to do all season – on TE Tony Scheffler.

Future outlook: Doesn’t Smith remind you a little bit of Bishop? He’s active, he’s explosive, and he seems to always be around when plays are made. As long as he shows the explosiveness and instincts he showed Thursday, he probably has the best chance of the three “unknowns” to remain a Packer for quite some time.

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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  • Mr. Bacon

    Put DJ Smith in the slow cooker. I give him a solid 2-3 years as the 3rd linebacker before he get a starting spot.

    Gives him time to learn, and maintain his health.

  • Zach Kruse

    Francois’s memorable moment before Thursday’s pick was lining up illegally (or so Ed Hochuli’s crew thought so) on a punt against the Dolphins last season. He’s come a long ways

    • Adam Czech

      That play seems like it was ages ago……

    • Bubbaloo

      Didn’t replay show that “Off-Sides” to be a bad call, I think so.

  • homerunsimpson

    at least DJ Smith can tackle

    • Bubbaloo

      Yes he can, maybe they should keep him in there to teach the others how to tackle.

      • http://none glblank

        Packling. Packer tackling – diving at ankles and coming up with grass or grabbing jersey as if its flag football.

        • Adam Czech

          LOL.

  • aaronqb

    Francois should maybe play ILB in place of Hawk on obvious passing downs. He seems to have better range.

    • Adam Czech

      It’d be worth trying at least.

    • homerunsimpson

      I think if we were going to take Hawk out for passing situations, wed put Jarrett Bush in and play dime

    • Savage57

      Whatever speed and quick Hawk may have had, it is going if not gone. A shame because the guy has a great head and heart for the game, he just can’t keep up anymore.

  • Adam Czech

    One more note: Someone reminded me on Twitter that Francois was the player the Vikings cut when they signed Favre.

    • Bubbaloo

      How’d that work out for them? Francois got a ring, Favre got his bell rung! Ha

  • john driscoll austin texas

    good to see some coverage of these 3 Packers…DJ Smith similar in size and ability to Dexter Coakley, also an alumnus of Appalacian St.. a tackling machine!!

  • Bubbaloo

    Adam, “Dietrich-Smith could enter a competition to start at center next season if the Packers don’t resign Scott Wells”. If the Packers don’t resign Wells I will be surprised, likely their best O-Lineman this year.

  • Wagszilla

    Oh how I long for a Bishop/Smith ILB duo…

  • Savage57

    D J Smith reminds me a lot of Sam Mills and London Fletcher. Vertically challenged, but quick as a cat and hits like a ton of bricks. Hope he has his A game for Bradshaw and Jacobs

  • http://none glblank

    Will Smith go the route of Dez Bishop or Torrence Marshall?He’s assignment sure so I doubt the latter. Given his size, dropping into coverage will be a weakness but I keep thinking of Sam Mills when I see Smith play. Personally I hope he and So’oto pan out. Hawk has underachieved so long and Walden has a low ceiling, imo.