RJF, Balmer fill backup roles on D-line

A year ago, the 49ers took defensive lineman Kentwan Balmer in the first round of the draft. This year, they selected Ricky Jean-Francois in the seventh round. Neither will be in the starting lineup Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, but both will be in uniform.


Today, I spoke to Jean-Francois for a podcast:



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Among the things Jean-Francois talked about . . .


RickJean.jpg–After being inactive for the first seven games of the season, he gets his chance with a shoulder injury expected to keep veteran Demetric Evans sidelined for three weeks. Jean-Francois said he is excited to play in his first regular-season game, and opening with a home game is a dream.


–His role for Sunday’s game will be to know every position along the defensive line and enter the game when the guys ahead of him need a breather.


–He sat down with every one of his defensive line teammates in training camp to learn. He wanted to know what goes through Aubrayo Franklin’s mind during the course of a play. He wants to be able to incorporate all the different styles into his game.


–He has gotten a lot of work on the scout team to help prepare the offense for that week’s opponent. He said the offensive linemen would get mad at him earlier in the season because he wasn’t giving them the kind of “look” they wanted. Then, he was told that it serves his best interest to get to know the different techniques being taught around the league. After all, most players move around the league and if he were to go to a new team, it’s a good thing to know how the different teams operate.


–Then I had to ask him . . . why the heck did he miss his flight back from the bye week? Jean-Francois said he misread his itinerary. By the time he looked at to confirm when his flight was leaving, it was too late. He said he tried everything possible to get on another flight, but he could not make it back for that Monday practice.


–Although Jean-Francois is likely to see limited playing time, he is ready to play every snap – even if the game goes into overtime. Yes, coach Mike Singletary had Jean-Francois doing a lot of running as his punishment for missing the flight.


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Balmer might get the most playing time of his career on Sunday against the Titans. Although he is not a starter, he has nearly already surpassed his production from a year ago.


As far as I can tell, Balmer has improved greatly from a year ago. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is less-than candid during his weekly sessions with reporters. When I asked about Balmer, this is what he said:


“Doing well, he is doing well. He is progressing. He keeps on getting better and better each week and we are trying to get him more and more playing time and as many snaps as we can.”


Playing time is not easy to get because this defensive line has played very well this season. The 49ers have the No. 2-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, and the line has done an exceptional job in that area of allowing the linebackers to roam free and make tackles.


According for the statistics that 49ers coaches take from the game film, here is how the 49ers’ defensive linemen stack up:


Aubrayo Franklin 43 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2.0 sacks, 8 QB pressures

Justin Smith 39 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 sack, 38 QB pressures

Isaac Sopoaga 31 tackles, .5 for loss, 1 sack, 6 QB pressures

Ray McDonald 15 tackles, 0 for loss, 3 sacks, 21 QB pressures

Kentwan Balmer 14 tackles, 1 for loss, 0 sacks, 4 QB pressures

Demetric Evans 8 tackles, .5 for loss, 0 sacks, 4 QB pressures


As a rookie, Balmer was credited with 20 tackles in 16 games.


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I always like to look at a player’s contract to determine if he is over- or under-performing. Although Balmer was a late-first-round draft pick, I can’t say there’s much disparity between what he’s making and what he’s producing.


After all, Balmer is making less in annual salary ($1.49 million) than Smith ($7.5 million), Sopoaga ($4 million), Franklin ($2.05 million) and Evans ($1.9 million). So if you consider salary and playing time, Balmer is about where he belongs.


Anyway, let’s see how he produces Sunday when he gets on the field.


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