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Back to the Bayou

Posted Aug 11, 2011



Try as they might, restaurants outside of the Bayou still don’t know how to cook crawfish. At least not well enough to please 49ers defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.

The third-year pro has grown fond of the California sun since San Francisco selected him in the seventh round of the 2009 draft, but part of his heart will always be with the South. Jean Francois spent four years on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, about 80 miles away from the Superdome.

So when the 49ers travel to New Orleans for Friday’s preseason opener against the Saints, Jean Francois will be looking forward to visiting a stadium where he’s enjoyed previous success. And, of course, he will be eating some crawfish.

“I don’t care if you go to any store down here and they say they make crawfish – they don’t make crawfish,”  the 6-foot-3, 295-pound lineman said. “The Pacific Ocean doesn’t taste the same as the Gulf.”

Jean Francois’ return to the Gulf Coast will be under a bigger microscope now that he’s been lining up with the first-team defense at nose tackle.

Since the onset of training camp, Jean Francois has been getting plenty of playing time with the first-team defense. While manning the starting nose tackle position for Isaac Sopoaga, who has been sidelined with an injury so far in camp, Jean Francois is confidently showcasing a more developed skill set which he credits to his third year working with defensive line coach Jim Tomsula.

Since working with the first team, Jean Francois said he’s established a nice rapport with starting middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. He’s also taken on a bit of a leadership role, helping the rookies get acclimated to the pace of the pro game. Jean Francois said veterans like Sopoaga, Justin Smith and Ray McDonald all played instrumental roles in his NFL development, so it’s only natural he returns the favor to his younger peers.

“Sometimes I run with the younger guys to get them experienced and learn how to catch up with the speed of the game,” Jean Francois said. “That’s the one biggest thing going into this preseason game – they have to know how fast the game is. We’re trying to teach them that now before they get into a game situation.”

But Jean Francois won’t be the only one swimming in nostalgia this weekend.

Newly-signed center Jonathan Goodwin will be making a return to his old office at the Superdome, but this time he won’t be snapping the ball to Drew Brees. Goodwin, who spent the past five seasons with the Saints, said he’s still close with the offensive linemen on his former team.

“It’s definitely going to be a different experience to me,” the 6-foot-3, 318-pound lineman said. “I have to make sure I don’t subconsciously drift to the wrong sideline. … But the good thing about it being the first game is you can kind of go ahead and close that chapter.”

During his time in New Orleans, Goodwin won a Super Bowl and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, but his career hit a crossroads this offseason. Ultimately, his decision came down between the Saints and the 49ers, and he chose the greener pastures of Northern California.

“They made me feel welcome here and made me feel like this could be a long-term situation and not just a yearly thing,” Goodwin said. “I feel a lot more secure here.”

Since he defected from The Big Easy, Goodwin said the Saints fans haven’t been too rough on him via Twitter. But Jean Francois said he knows what kind of reception to expect.

“I’m going to have a lot friends there,” Jean Francois said. “They’re not going to be rooting for me, though, they’ll be rooting for the Saints.”

While it will mark Jean Francois’ first visit to the Superdome as a pro, he’s no stranger to the turf. Jean Francois was a key component to LSU’s dominant defense which led the program to the 2008 BCS Championship. Jean Francois blocked a field goal attempt in the second quarter of that contest, en route to being named defensive most valuable player of the game.

Nowadays, Jean Francois and fellow former LSU Tiger Curtis Taylor take pride in the fact their team defeated Ohio State, which featured current 49ers Alex Boone, Thaddeus Gibson and Larry Grant.

“It’s just a joy to have those guys on your team, knowing that you played against them in a big game like that,” Taylor said. “We’re always picking on them, we always let them know who’s boss.”