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Wild Round Trip For Undrafted Rookie Francis

Posted Jan 7, 2014

Popular defensive tackle went to New England and back.

Even though he wasn’t drafted last April out of the University of Maryland, rookie defensive tackle A.J. Francis became a YouTube star after proposing to his girlfriend seconds after donning a Miami Dolphins ball cap.

That was just a precursor to how unique his 2013 would be.

Francis quickly befriended the veteran defensive linemen on Miami with his quick wit and positive personality, leaving a lasting impression on three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake among others. He also left an impression on Miami’s coaches and General Manager Jeff Ireland in training camp and was pushing for a roster spot as late as the final preseason game. But that also happened to be the deepest unit on the team, so the next logical stop was Miami’s practice squad – until the New England Patriots swooped him and signed him.

“I was expecting to be here in Miami and I was excited about it,” Francis told The Finsiders. “I wouldn’t say I was complacent, but when Mr. Ireland told me that he wanted me to be on the practice squad, coming from Maryland and being undrafted and just having an opportunity to be on the team, that blew my mind. And then when I got word that New England claimed me off waivers, that was the craziest day of my life.”

So Francis packed his things and headed north to join the Patriots and was on the active roster in Week 1. He almost came back to the Dolphins the following week but had just put a down payment on an apartment up there and decided to stick it out on New England’s practice squad.

An injury to veteran defensive tackle Paul Soliai suffered during Miami’s 20-16 home loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 12 prompted Ireland to pick up the phone and call Francis in New England to offer him a spot on the active roster. Actually, Francis’ father took a call from his agent because nobody could reach Francis that Monday morning while he was sleeping, but he wasted no time hopping another plane bound for South Florida.

“Five hours later I’m landing in Miami and back where I started the season,” said Francis, who was inactive for the Dolphins’ last five games with Soliai gutting it out up front. “And I was blessed with the opportunity to work behind some of the best in the game. When you go to your craft and you want to study your craft, you want to learn from the best. Well the Pro Bowl is the best of the best and Randy (Starks) has been to two, Paul’s been to one and Cam is going to his third. So I learned from a lot of good guys and a lot of guys that know what they’re doing.”

Francis doesn’t plan to take too much time off between now and the start of OTAs and the offseason program because he wants to progress from being a backup lineman to cracking the regular rotation. Francis plans to work out in order to keep his weight and body fat down, as well as work on parts of his technique, specifically his hand strike and the overall use of his hands.

He is still absorbing the fact that he’s about to see places in the world he never thought he’d see like Hawaii, Australia and he’s going on a cruise to Mexico over the next couple of months with his new friends. Of course being surrounded by Pro Bowlers has only motivated Francis more to perhaps be invited to play in the Pro Bowl in Hawaii rather than go there as a tourist.

“I want to be a factor on this team next year,” Francis said. “I was on the active roster the last five weeks and because of just a numbers game I wasn’t able to suit up. I still haven’t proved that I can play in the NFL. I mean I had a great preseason, at least that’s what people keep telling me, but it wasn’t good enough for me to earn any playing time so it wasn’t good enough for me.

“That’s how I feel and I want to be able to perform at this level and show that I can play at this level and that only comes when you actually play at this level. So my goal is to get on the field and prove that I belong and that was the same message I gave in the preseason and now I’m trying to do it again this upcoming year because I don’t think I accomplished enough of my goals.”

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