SANTA CLARA – The starting nose tackle, Isaac Sopoaga, most likely will not play this Sunday because he has a staph infection. So, that means the next man on the depth chart has to step up for the 49ers, and in this case the next man is Ricky Jean-Francois.
Here’s what he said at his locker today.
Q: Do you expect to have a pretty prominent role on Sunday?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: Yeah, I’ve got a big role this week, but nothing’s going to change.
Q: You’ve been the nose tackle in preseason the last two years. Do you feel good that you’re finally getting a chance to put all that practice to work in the regular season?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: Yeah, it is. Doing it in preseason guys aren’t going too hard, but now it’s the season and every game counts. This week, everything I’ve done in preseason, everything I’ve done up to this week, that I do every other week, we try to prepare. Actually I’m just trying to focus on getting more snaps. Justin Smith and Ray McDonald have told me that you might want to go to practice and blow your runs this week. It’s going to be different. You’ve been spot playing here and here, you’ve got special teams. No. Now you’re going to play just about every down. And we’re playing against a good team that’s good at running the ball.
Q: Can you talk about the timing of that? You’re finally getting a chance to play and it’s against one of the biggest power running teams in football.
JEAN-FRANCOIS: I’d say we’re playing the game we want to. We’re playing against a team that’s good at running the ball with Blount and their other guys. Good offensive linemen. We’re actually playing a team that’s good at the run and it’s basically a challenge for our front seven. A lot of people are saying we haven’t played as many great rushers, but this game I give the guys respect. This is probably one of the best rushers in the NFL for a young guy.
Q: Do you expect to play a little fullback, too?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: Hey, if they put me in at fullback baby, I’m ready. If we run the wildcat I can throw it about 70 yards (laughs).
Q: When we talked to you last year you said you spent the offseason running on the beaches in Miami listening to Phil Collins on your headset. What was your offseason like this year?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: Same thing, just a little longer. Just hanging out with veterans. I got to hang out with older vets like (Sammie) Stroughter, Jonathan Beason, Plaxico, a lot of guys. I got a chance to pick their brains on how it’s been from the first year in until this day.
Q: Still Phil Collins?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: Oh yeah, I’ve still got to play that. We played that at LSU and I’m still stuck on it, so I’m still playing it to this day.
Q: In the air tonight?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: Mmhmm. That’s always.
Q: Is stamina the key to the nose tackle position?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: Yeah, you’ve got to have stamina. You’re going to be fatigued against a team that likes pounding, pounding, pounding to a point they’re going to start letting the ball air out. And plus my technique comes in. Once you get tired, at some point you’ve got to use your technique. That was one big thing I always worked on, especially during the offseason last year. I had to work on my technique. That was the biggest thing for me at that position. A lot people said I’m too small, probably not fast enough, might not be strong enough, so my technique’s got to fall in.
Q: How big are you now?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: I’m 310 now.
Q: Was it the Green Bay game last season that made you feel like you needed to work on your technique in the offseason?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: It wasn’t that, it was before. I came straight off the bench and I really didn’t get to play that game, but that’s an excuse. I should have been out there. I should have already known my technique and everything I had to do. That was the one game that I slipped up and it made me dedicate. It doesn’t matter if I get to play on the 50th snap and I haven’t played until then, I’ve got to learn that. I can’t let the pace slow down. We’ve got some of the best D-linemen at any given time. If you see any one of them say they want to switch out and get a blow, you’ve got to go in and make it seem like they’re still in there.
Q: You were a seventh round pick. Do you have a chip on your shoulder?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: No, I don’t worry about that. I let people talk. A lot people have their prototypical nose tackle or defensive tackle. I think of myself as a regular guy – another defensive lineman on the San Francisco 49ers. I really don’t about the size and strength and everything like that. As long as the coaches have confidence in me and my others guys do I don’t have no worries. I just go out there and play.
Q: Will you be able to play every snap?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: Oh yeah. That’s what the offseason is for. You’ve got to get ready for that. Going into the season not knowing I was going to get many snaps, I still had to keep myself training. Our practice is over with at 5 o’clock. I still have to be out here working out because you don’t know what can happen. Somebody might get injured and they just call you up, and you got to go.
Q: How many snaps did you play against Tampa last year?
JEAN-FRANCOIS: I’d say 10, probably. Probably this week 10 is going to turn into 40 or 50, so I’ve got to be ready for that.