Finally cracking Washington's defensive line rotation late in the 2017 season, A.J. Francis is looking to be more of an impact player in 2018.
For defensive lineman A.J. Francis, the value of opportunity means everything.
Francis had stints with the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before signing with the Washington Redskins in 2016.
But being back with his hometown team didn't immediately mean Francis was back to active status.
Initially signed to the practice squad in October 2016, Francis was promoted to the active roster the following month but never saw playing time. Eventually, he was waived by Washington before returning to the practice squad in 2017. He would remain on the offseason 90-man roster and completed for a spot on the active roster, but was among the last cuts to the initial 53-man roster.
In the following months, Francis waited for word from NFL teams about the return to a roster, whether that be as an active player or on a practice squad. It was a difficult time for him, as he had contemplated retirement. But in November, he received a call from the Redskins to return.
"It was awesome," Francis told Redskins.com earlier this month. "I got an opportunity to play and I took advantage of it. And all you can ask for is an opportunity – most of my career I never got it, even most of my time here I never got it, and then when I finally got it, I made the most of it.
"It was just a blessing to be able to get the opportunity to be in the rotation and then, I don't plan on ever leaving."
In six games with the Redskins, Francis recorded 18 tackles. While the sample size was small, the 6-foot-5, 327 pounder believes he can be the answer to the team's search for a productive nose tackle.
"I'm just ready to come back and start from square one and understand that this year was good, "Francis said. "Next year I expect more things. …I've already proven that I can play and I'm excited to keep playing because once you give somebody the opportunity and they do the most with it, it's hard to take it back. So when I get the opportunity next year, I plan on starting at nose and I don't plan on letting anyone stop me."
The University of Maryland product also believes that under the guidance of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, his production will expand.
"He's helped me a lot with the technique that we do here," Francis said. "The technique we do here is something that I've never done before. What he's been very good at it is keeping all the guys level-headed, keeping the guys focused, having us understand the task at hand, and making sure that everyone comes ready to play on Sunday. So, I'm really grateful for him as a coach, he's definitely one of the best coaches I've ever had, and I'm thankful that he's still my coach."