Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/8/14
FOXBORO, Mass. — When Jermaine Cunningham was suspended for violating the NFL’s PED policy, the question of who would replace him up front immediately came square into view. The four likely replacements along the defensive line were Trevor Scott, Brandon Deaderick, Ron Brace and rookie Justin Francis. Obviously, if Chandler Jones can return to full health and work his way back onto the field none of this would be much of a concern. In the meantime, Scott seems to be the most likely proxy for Cunningham given his experience and success as a pass rusher with the Raiders. But don’t count Francis out of that mix just yet. After signing on with the Patriots as an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers in April, Francis has made the most of every opportunity he’s been afforded. He went inactive for the Patriots’ first five games of the season, but has begun carving out a role for himself on defense as the season’s gone on. Francis has been a solid special teams player all season, even getting awfully close to blocking a few punts. And he’s continued to build a role along the defensive line as a good depth option and situational pass rusher. His snap count has never been very high, as he’s slowly integrated into the defensive scheme, but he’s used every practice rep to make sure he’s ready if and when his number is called. “There’s a very large value. You take your snaps as much as you can and really try to take advantage of every snap that you get,” Francis said of his preparation. Francis has been used most in pass rushing situations, which he bluntly said acknowledged his preferred position anyway. As for his use out on the field, though, Francis is willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. Even if that means playing quarterback — although that’s not very likely. “Wherever coach wants me to play, I’m gonna play,” Francis said of his commitment to the team. “If it’s quarterback, it’s quarterback. If it’s cornerback, it’s cornerback,” Francis added before cracking a big smile and pausing for a few laughs, “But I don’t think I’m going to be playing any of those positions.” Francis may be joking around now, but you can be sure that on Sunday he’ll be ready and willing to contribute in anyway Bill Belichick asks. And that will likely entail filling some of Cunningham’s responsibilities. A task, Francis is more than prepared to take on. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here. Photo via Facebook/New England Patriots
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Brock Lesnar attends UFC 184, keeps MMA rumors alive

Ronda Rousey beats Cat Zingano in 14 seconds

Dick Vitale will not call Duke-UNC rematch either

PHOTO: Auburn coaches, players wear ribbons for Mason

Dustin Penner apologizes after sending rape joke on Twitter

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Cowboys to use franchise tag on Dez Bryant

Report: Panthers officially parting ways with Greg Hardy

Could the Eagles release LeSean McCoy?

AEG: Inglewood stadium would be a terrorism target

Former Knick Anthony Mason dies at age 48

Report: Blackhawks, Caps discussed Patrick Sharp trade

WATCH: NIU C brings down basket on dunk

McCown plans to embrace mentoring role with Manziel

Chris Sale out three weeks with foot injury

NHL analyst calls out media over Blackhawks report

Alabama recruits aim to bring the dynasty back

WATCH: Jon Jones, Rumble Johnson prank Dana White

Anthony Mason: The most 'New York' of the 90's Knicks

Ray Rice addresses domestic violence case, his future & more

Kentucky raffling off Wildcats-themed motorcycle

WATCH: Montrezl Harrell throws down monster alley-oop

WATCH: Tyler Hansbrough, Festus Ezeli ejected for fight

WATCH: Russell Westbrook literally gets dent in his face

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Brock Lesnar attends UFC 184

Rousey beats Zingano in 14 seconds

Anthony Mason: The most 'New York' of the 90's Knicks

Could Eagles release LeSean McCoy?

AEG plays dirty with Inglewood stadium

Anthony Mason dies at age 48

Westbrook got dent in his cheek

Earl Lloyd and basketball’s cruel February

WATCH: Barkley rips analytics again

A-Rod: A con man returns to baseball

Bostick death threats show why some fans take sports too seriously

Russell Westbrook is surging into the MVP conversation

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.