In rookie minicamp, certain players tend to rise above their teammates and stand out amongst the gaggle of no-names. Such was the case at Chicago Bears rookie minicamp this weekend with former LSU running back Michael Ford.
On the practice field, Ford showed strong cuts, great burst out of his cuts and surprisingly good hands. In 1-on-1 passing drills, no player was as dominant as Ford. He consistently beat linebackers, creating easy separation out of his breaks.
In three years at LSU, he caught just eight total passes, so many questioned his ability as a pass catcher, which is one of the reasons he went undrafted. Yet the past three days, Ford was impressive as a receiver in both 1-on-1s and out of the backfield in team drills.
"I think I bring speed and the versatility of catching out of the backfield," Ford told Bear Report. "Hands, I always need to work on that, and blocking, I always need to work on that, but my speed is a plus."
Ford ran a 4.50 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, fifth best amongst running backs. He was also a top performer in the vertical jump (38.5 inches), broad jump (130.0 inches) and 60-yard shuttle (11.43 seconds). That athleticism showed this weekend.
What we didn't get to see this weekend is what most consider his strongest asset: short-yardage and goal-line carries. With no pads on, the Bears couldn't run full-contact drills, so Ford never got a chance to showcase his power. But if he keeps improving as a pass catcher and continues to be strong between the tackles, he could challenge for the club's No. 3 running back spot in training camp.
"At the end of the day, it's all about the team," he said. "Whatever the head coach needs me to do, that's what I'm going to do. If he needs me to get in there on short yardage or get the long yards, it doesn't matter to me. I just need to perfect my craft on it."
After carrying the full load his sophomore season, Ford served in a committee last year, compiling just 392 rushing yards on 71 carries. Despite the drop in production, he still chose to forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
"I just thought it was my time to go," he said. "I thought I did everything that I could to the best of my opportunity and I just decided to leave."
Ford is also an experienced kick returner. His 25.7 yards per return were second best in the SEC last season. During special teams drills at Halas Hall, he appeared comfortable in that role.
"I was [a returner] in college but as I come here, I've got to learn a little bit more, get physical, get faster when I'm doing it, and not think as much."
Ford (5-10, 215) has a thick base and runs with a low pad level. That running style could make him tough to bring back on kickoffs.
"He was one of those guys that we targeted," said special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. "He's hard to knock of his feet. He's going to really bring some competition to that position. He's a straight-line guy that's got great balance. When you get the kind of stats that he did in the SEC, you've got some talent. He's got some toughness too. He also played other [special] teams, so it's good that we have him."
In the NFL, the best way for a rookie to make the final 53-man roster is to show his value on special teams. To make this year's Bears roster, Ford will have to beat out Armando Allen, who may not hold as much value on special teams. Allen is a much better receiver but Ford's power and return ability may be too much to overlook.
The No. 3 running back position in Chicago will be there for the taking once OTAs begin tomorrow. We'll find out shortly if Ford is up to the challenge.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.