The moment we’ve all been waiting for came just before 2 p.m. (PST) this afternoon, when ESPN super-sleuth Adam Schefter reported that missing NT Aubrayo Franklin will fly to San Francisco on Saturday and zip to 49ers headquarters in Santa Clara to sign his franchise tender.
Because of the uncertain labor situation heading into 2011, and because Franklin’s deadline to negotiate a long-term contract with the team had expired, there was little doubt the respected nose tackle would re-enter the fold at some point. The question was when.
A lot of people thought it would be this week. We were almost right. If Franklin signs Saturday, there is a chance he will suit up for the final preseason game on Sept. 2. The consensus is that because he knows Greg Manusky’s defensive system so well, it won’t take him long to find his rhythm.
No one is more invested in the situation that Jim Tomsula, the 49ers’ defensive line coach. I sat down with Tomsula this afternoon to discuss his prodigal son and the people who have been standing in for him during preseason.
Here is a partial transcript.
How long will it take Aubrayo Franklin to get up to speed in Manusky’s scheme?
Tomsula: “You’re talking about a guy that has not been handed anything. A late-round draft pick, NFL Europe guy – he’s taken a long road. And since the day I’ve met him here, he’s done nothing but work his tail off. I mean, this guy not only works the physical side of things, it’s the mental side of things, and he’s an all-in guy. I mean, this is a guy I’m having to meet with at 8 o’clock Monday morning after a game. This guy works, works, works, works, and he’s talented. In terms of the system, it’s the techniques and the things we work here. … And Aubrayo, I don’t know, but I would feel pretty sure he’s at home working those techniques. I know he has a guy and he works and he trains like crazy, and I wouldn’t expect that to change. … And then getting in here with guys in the system? Aubrayo will be just fine.”
What makes Franklin so valuable to the team?
Tomsula: “It’s the work ethic. It’s the intelligence. It’s the physical work combined with the mental work. The guy’s a worker. I mean, he works, he’s in here, he’s on film, he’s on scouting reports. He’s on everything. He just works. And then you match that with his physical tools…”
What do you think of the development of backup NT Ricky Jean Francois?
Tomsula: “Has Ricky benefited from all the repetitions? You’re absolutely right he has. It’s like a double-edged sword. Has he taken way more repetitions than probably anyone would ever think he’d have taken? Yes, he has. But again, here, with the defensive line, that’s what we do with young guys. … To me, a rep is a bar of gold. There’s some guys in training camp right now that are fighting for three reps a practice. So our guys are all getting a lot of reps, and they get quality work, which I think is an extreme positive.”
Can Jean Francois be part of the D-line rotation?
Tomsula: “All right, there’s depth charts. You got ones, and you got twos. I got you right there. We gotta have that on a piece of paper. But the thing that we try to accomplish up front is, I don’t really get into starters and backups. I really don’t. And the closer we get to filling that gap, the better defensive line we’ll be. You know that. Has Ricky earned the right? Well, let’s get to the season and see. We are in preseason, we are in camp. I don’t like to go with a crystal-ball thing. Am I thrilled with the guy? Yes.”
Will we see Isaac Sopoaga slide to nose tackle sometimes, too?
Tomsula: “As you’ve seen us, it’s no secret, we double-train everybody on the defensive line. OK? So is that beyond the realm of possibilities? No, it’s not. All those guys can step in there. That’s why we do the work, and you see guys moving around a little bit and getting work at different spots.”
How much of an ironman was Franklin last year?
Tomsula: “In my thought process, off the top of my head, I think we played base defense four snaps last year that Aubrayo Franklin was not our nose guard.”
Would you like to find someone to share that load?
Tomsula: “Obviously. Yes, obviously. You’d like to have that. That’s narrowing that gap. That would be good for Aubrayo, that would be good for everyone. That would be good for the 49ers.”