The San Francisco 49ers are hopeful that defensive end Ray McDonald will be back in the lineup on Sunday when the New York Giants come to Candlestick Park. But if for some reason McDonald is sidelined again with a hamstring injury, the 49ers should feel good about the state of their defensive line, regardless. When the 49ers played the Washington Redskins on Sunday, it was Ricky Jean Francois who got the call at left defensive end, and his game was a good one.
Jean Francois did get off to an inauspicious start, though - he was driven off the ball big time on Washington's first offensive play of the game, in which running back Roy Helu got a sixteen-yard run, the longest run given up to a running back by the 49ers this season. In fact, Helu did get a good amount of yards in the first two quarters, and it looked like the team might be missing McDonald - but Jean Francois looked a lot better after that point.
He was frequently able to beat Christ Chester when matched up with him, and prevented a big John Beck run later in the game by slapping Chester aside. There was also one point in which he got his hands up on a pass to deflect it, which you have to admire, even though the ball was still complete - it was a solid deflection that simply bounced the wrong way. You want that out of your defensive ends: the ability to try and prevent a pass from getting into the flat for a potential big catch and run.
All-in-all, Jean Francois ended up tightening up down the stretch, playing the majority of the game and doing well to make the 49ers defensive line not miss a beat. It would be surprising if he wasn't worked in a little more all over the line, especially given the fact that he now has two starts this year - one at defensive end, and one replacing an injured Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle. He played well at nose tackle, as well, and has taken over there during other games as well.
So the 49ers now know they have a very versatile immediate backup for any of the positions on their line, one who can start if need be. Of course, they probably knew this before the game on Sunday, but it's nice confirmation and shows that the later rounds in the NFL draft can never be ignored - they've already experienced greater returns with Jean Francois than the seventh round pick they spent on him.