Rookie Francis earns Belichick's praise

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Rookie defensive end Justin Francis played on defense in three of the Patriots’ first 10 games this season, totaling 38 snaps.

But over the last four games, he’s become a more regular contributor, playing 74 snaps.

Francis, who went undrafted out of Rutgers but made the New England roster out of training camp, received some notice from NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth in Sunday night’s loss to the 49ers for an effective pass rush that highlighted his quickness.

More importantly for Francis, coach Bill Belichick has also been dishing out some praise.

“He’s a competitive player. He works hard. He’s got some good ability,” Belichick said Wednesday of Francis, when asked about him.

“Like any young player, he’s learning through sometimes trial and error, and sometimes experience, and sometimes the hard way.

“He works hard to get better and I have a lot of respect for that. There’s not many people who work harder than he does. He competes every day in practice, both in the classroom and out on the field to learn and improve.”

The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Francis is mostly being utilized as a sub rusher (7 tackles, 4 quarterback hits), and occasionally sees reps in the base defense. He adds value in suiting up on the punt return unit.

It was notable that Francis had a larger role than veteran Trevor Scott (3 snaps) and 2012 third-round draft choice Jake Bequette (inactive) on Sunday night.