At the start of training camp, things didn’t look good for Robert Francois.
The starting inside linebackers were set, and the Green Bay Packers moved Jamari Lattimore inside and drafted Terrell Manning in the fifth round. There didn’t seem to be much room for Francois, a third-year veteran.
However, Francois (6-foot-2, 255) is conditioned for this routine. After going undrafted out of Boston College, Francois had brief stints with Minnesota and Detroit before getting signed to the Packers’ practice squad in 2009 and sticking in one capacity or another.
In 2010 he split the season between the team’s practice squad and active roster before keeping a spot on the 53-man roster all of last season.
Despite the increased competition, Francois’ chances at making this year’s roster improved after the team lost Desmond Bishop to a season-threatening hamstring injury against San Diego two weeks ago.
Now, the 27-year-old Francois is competing with a pair of youngsters, Lattimore (23) and Manning (22), for likely two reserve inside linebacker spots behind starters D.J. Smith and A.J. Hawk.
While Manning is the invested rookie and Lattimore has shown explosiveness off the snap, Francois has been his same reliable self both on defense and on special teams.
“It’s a reflection on his work ethic,” Packers special teams coach Shawn Slocum said. “He’s really improved as a football player overall. He goes out and takes his job very seriously with his off-the-field preparation. He’s an improved player.”
Francois made his best showing of this year’s camp at last Thursday’s preseason game against Cleveland when he made three special teams tackles, including a solo stop of Browns’ dangerous returner Josh Cribbs for a two-yard loss in the first quarter.
One quarter later, he raced down for another punt-coverage tackle and knocked Jordan Norwood out of bounds on first contact to halt an 8-yard gain.
Unlike Lattimore or Manning, Francois has experience on his side with 19 career appearances and three career starts, including two last season when he stepped in for an injured A.J. Hawk.
“I’m more comfortable than last year, if that means anything,” Francois said. “Being more comfortable out there, you just want to go out and make plays. You can go out there and play fast instead of tentative and unsure. I’m a step further than I was last year.”
Lee motivates Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis used tight end Donald Lee’s past success as a motivational tool, at one point showing off the Super Bowl ring Lee won with the Packers.
“I felt like it was a good thing to show the young guys what hard work and dedication will do for you,” said Lee, who was signed by the Bengals last September and started 54 of the 99 games he played with the Packers from 2005-2010. “I think it motivated a lot of the guys here because they were asking me questions about it and asking me how my experience was in the Super Bowl. Basically, I just told them it was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever experienced.
“We’ve got a young team here and I feel like my responsibility is to kind of show these guys the way to get to the Super Bowl. So that’s why I come here day in and day out, just work hard and try to lead by example.”
Lewis raves about the example Lee sets.
“Obviously he comes here with credibility. A huge one. He carries it around in a box and keeps it safe,” Lewis said. “That’s huge credibility when you can walk in with that Super Bowl ring, and I passed that ring around last year to show everybody what Donald had earned. And that’s important.”
No hard knocks
Packers general manager Ted Thompson said he has never watched “Hard Knocks,” the HBO television show that gives viewers a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a National Football League team during training camp. This year the Miami Dolphins are the focus of the weekly show.
Thompson said he would never consider allowing the "Hard Knocks" camera crew to focus on the Packers.
“That’s not something that’s high on our radar,” said Thompson. “I don’t think Mike (McCarthy) and I, either one, feel very comfortable with it. I’m not saying it’s not good for other places. I’m sure it’s a successful television show. We don’t do business that way.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.
The Cincinnati Enquirer contributed to this report.