Jean Francois bonds with Phil Collins

He can feel it cooomming in the air too-nighhht. Oh, loorrd.

Ricky Jean Francois is a slang-spitting young African-American athlete of Haitian descent who grew up in the Miami area, so you might not expect Phil Collins to be his inspirational music of choice. But that’s what the LSU training staff blared during his college days, so that’s what Jean Francois plays on his headphones when he wants to get pumped up for a workout.

Jean Francois heard a lot of Phil Collins this summer. A lot.

The second-year defensive lineman played very little as a 49ers rookie. But with Aubrayo Franklin protesting his franchise tag by skipping every offseason practice – and declining to report for training camp this morning – Jean Francois has become an integral part of the defensive line.

He knew he’d be working harder than ever this August, so he found a new way to prepare.

“Everything I did was on sand. I never did nothing on grass,” he said today. “I felt by doing everything on sand, I’d get a little faster, my twitches would get a little more quicker.”

Jean Francois spent much of July running on the Miami waterfront, between Haulover Beach and South Beach. Temperatures were hitting 100 degrees on the East Coast this summer, so he got up at 5:30 a.m. for his workouts.

“It helped my endurance,” he said. “Because the first day I was on sand, trying to run like a mile, I died on that one. I probably lasted the first three minutes. But I did it three days out the week. So every time I kept doing it, doing it, then I got longer, longer. I got to the point that I almost got to South Beach. Probably like eight, nine miles.”

And sweating was just the half of it. Jean Francois has been working hard mentally, too. Franklin works reflexively with veteran linebackers Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis. Jean Francois isn’t there yet, a fact that hit home when he played with the duo during OTAs and the 49ers’ final minicamp.

“One time during OTAs, Takeo was trying to play off me, he didn’t know I would overreact to a certain block,” Jean Francois said. “But I’m glad that happened. Now he’s getting used to me, what I’m doing.”

To prepare for his leap, Jean Francois spent my time breaking down film than he ever has before.

“The days I got up and didn’t work out, I just sat there for like six to seven hours looking at film,” he said. “Just taking a perspective like who’s the offensive coordinator for this team, who’s the running back, who’s the quarterback, what’s his habits, what’s his tendencies, what’s their alignment. I thought at first it’d be boring. But if you want to be in the spotlight, basically you gotta do what a starter does. If you want to be respected by the veterans, you gotta do what they do, or more.”

Everyone expects Franklin to show up and sign his franchise tender once the physical strain of training camp has started to ebb, a move that will send RJF back to the second team. But Jean Francois may have already benefited from the veteran’s absence. If he winds up in the defensive-line rotation, all that running on the beach will be just Another Day in Paradise.

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