As we head into our first days of the Green Bay Packers training camp, I decided to spotlight a few back-up players from last year’s team who could be contenders to make the roster again. My first selection is Robert Francois, an inside linebacker who made some bright flashes as a temporary starter when he managed two athletic interceptions in coverage.
During the Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions, injuries to both Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk thrust back-ups Robert Francois and D.J. Smith into action. (Incidentally, the coaches had to communicate to players via hand signals in the second half, as both Bishop and Hawk were the only two players designated to wear speakers in their helmets.) Francois went on to start the next two games: Week 13 against the New York Giants, and Week 14 against the Oakland Raiders.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, these are some of the stats for Francois in those three games:
|Yards After Catch||42|
After watching just about every snap that Francois played, his strengths and weaknesses became pretty clear. In fact, Francois was just about manhandled during his first series against the Lions in Week 12. His first five plays saw him get sealed off from the run, allowing two receptions in man coverage, and provide a poorly executed blitz. All that, of course, was made up for on the sixth snap, when he deftly intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass over the middle of the field.
In his subsequent starts against the Giants and Raiders, however, Francois showed a significant increase in his level of play. He exhibited more patience, better timing on blitzes, and improved run support. Where he often got sealed off and controlled by blockers against Detroit, he did a better job against New York and Oakland of squaring up with the run and not over-pursuing, allowing himself to get free of blockers more easily. Francois’s lateral agility/quickness leaves something to be desired, though, and it’s part of the reason for this missed tackle of Brandon Jacobs:
Still, what we’ve all come to love about Francois are his abilities in pass coverage. As mentioned before, his two interceptions have done much to sway public perception. And while being a “playmaker” is good, there is a bit of a mixed bag with Francois. He tends to struggle with man coverage, but does well when playing zone. Here are two clips to highlight this:
Francois is in single coverage here against Kevin Boss, who runs a drag route across the middle of the field. As is common with Francois, he allows too much space to get between him and the receiver. He also tends to get thrown off by slight fakes, which he recovers from too slowly. All together, it often prevents Francois from limiting yards after the catch.
You’ll notice here that Francois is covering the middle of the field. He does a nice job of sitting in his zone and keeping Ballard at a manageable distance in front of him. His quick diagnosis of the play allows him to break on the ball and undercut the tight end’s route.
An interesting training camp battle among the inside linebackers awaits the Packers this season. A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop remain the de facto starters, with D.J. Smith having the inside lane for the first back-up spot. Fifth round pick Terrell Manning could be a strong contender for inside linebacker, and the conversion of Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore to the position make the battle that much more interesting.
Three-year veteran Robert Francois is solid in his assignments and has shown a knack for making plays when playing zone. However, he will need to improve his tackling, man coverage skills, ability to shed blockers, and lateral speed if he wants to take another spot on the roster this year.