Francois, Cut Three Times, Becomes Playmaker

Robert Francois, the answer to a Brett Favre trivia question, has made more turnover plays than starting inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk combined. He struck again on Sunday with an interception and forced fumble.

Take a glimpse at his biography in the Green Bay Packers' media guide, and about the only thing noteworthy about Robert Francois' NFL career is what's listed under "career transactions."

After registering 201 tackles at Boston College, Francois wasn't selected in the 2009 draft and wound up signing with Minnesota. He played in one preseason game for the Vikings but was released, the answer to this trivia question: Who did Minnesota release to sign Brett Favre on Aug. 18, 2009?

The Packers signed Francois to the practice squad on Dec. 8, 2009. For the next 51 weeks, Francois racked up plenty of frequent-flier mileage, if not plenty of tackles, while traveling to and from Green Bay from his residence in Highlands, Texas.

In 2010:

— Sept. 4: waived among the Packers' final cuts.

— Sept. 5: signed to Packers' practice squad.

— Sept. 15: released from practice squad.

— Sept. 23: signed to practice squad.

— Oct. 13: signed to active roster.

— Nov. 9: waived from active roster.

— Nov. 15: signed to practice squad.

— Dec. 1: signed to active roster.

This year, Francois is feeling much more at home. He made the team out of training camp, and with injuries to starting inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, he's been in the lineup for the last two-and-a-half games.

Last season, Francois recorded two tackles. This season, he's got two interceptions, as well as a forced fumble that Erik Walden recovered for a touchdown. That's three turnover plays by Francois compared to one by the starters (a forced fumble by Bishop against Denver).

"It's real rewarding," Francois said in a nearly empty locker room after Sunday's game. "It compliments my hard work and perseverance. You hope it pays off for you, and that's what it's been doing. I'm going to keep on with it and help contribute and help get to the ultimate goal."


Robert Francois celebrates an interception at Detroit with Sam Shields.
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
To say Francois' story is typical of these Packers would be an overstatement. After all, most of the "next man up" players that fueled last year's Super Bowl championship and this year's 13-0 record weren't sent packing by the team three times within a span of barely two months. Still, Francois' play is emblematic of a team that seems impervious to the impact of injuries.

"Robert's done a great job," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "You take your hat off to guys like him that just keep fighting. The way his career has gone and the way his last couple starts have gone, he's such a combative individual. He's got more playmaking ability than people realize. He's done it now two weeks in a row."

Francois made his mark on the field a couple times last year — at outside linebacker. Because of season-ending injuries to Brad Jones and Brady Poppinga, plus injuries to Walden and Frank Zombo, Francois was pressed into starting duty in the must-win game against the Giants. In the NFC Championship Game at Chicago a month later, Francois played most of the second half for an injured Walden.

With the releases of Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar after the lockout, the Packers moved Francois inside, where he paired with rookie D.J. Smith as the No. 2 tandem.

"As you start to look at what linebackers are going to make your team, the more versatile they are, the more valuable they become," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday. "Earlier in the year, we had him outside (three snaps against Denver). He's a guy that has enough size to him and enough physicality that he can play either inside or outside. And you can tell his length has helped him with the two interceptions he's got. He falls in that category of having to be an opportunist. When the situation presents itself, in this league, you have to take advantage of it."

Francois has done that. He was inactive for five consecutive games before being on the 46-man gameday roster for the Thanksgiving game at Detroit in which he replaced Hawk at halftime. With Hawk likely to be back in the lineup for this week's game at Kansas City, Francois figures to be back on the sideline.

If he's needed, he'll be ready.

"It's just having a tough mind-set, going through a lot of tough stuff in your lifetime, not letting anything get you down, how you were raised," Francois said. "Just keep your head down and keep doing what you're doing."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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