In April of 2014, Kansas City Chiefs General Manager, John Dorsey, handpicked Dee Ford in hopes he could fit into Bob Sutton’s lethal defense and become a future centerpiece for this franchise. Entering his second year, and blessed with a lightning quick step, the young defender has the chance to take the next step from high draft pick to a budding playmaker.
What we don’t know is whether or not Ford will use that quickness to catapult himself into the hearts of Chiefs fans as the eventual successor to Tamba Hali or will his career fizzle out off like a bad Fourth of July firecracker.
Unfortunately during his rookie campaign, Ford failed to meet the expectations of the Chiefs fan base, mainly because he played behind the aforementioned Hali, and Justin Houston - two Pro Bowl performers that completed the brutal 16-game schedule without missing much playing time.
Furthermore, Ford’s slow progression to the NFL came with the built in career roadblock, he had to learn a new position with the Chiefs. In college, he chased quarterbacks as a true defensive end to the tune of 20.5 career sacks. At the NFL level, he found the quarterback hunt playing outside linebacker was far more challenging.
Fortunately, Ford has an opportunity to take on a bigger role for the Chiefs in the present. With Linebacker, Justin Houston, still in contract limbo with the team, Hali and Ford were seen together hand fighting as the Chiefs veteran was grooming the promising upstart to take on a bigger defensive role this season. Based on some glowing reports the last couple of months, it appears the student is attacking the lessons with the work ethic of a man that seeks greatness as his number one goal.
Ford is a player being mentored by one of the best players to ever don a Chiefs uniform to sack the likes of Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Derek Carr in the AFC West. With Hali as his mentor, there’s no question Ford is being methodically taught every tool, tip and trick in the book by one of the best in the business at pressuring quarterbacks. The fact is, Hali won’t be a Chiefs defender on the field forever, but he’s doing his part to ensure the Chiefs pass rush will be forever-feared on the gridiron.
Hali is the quintessential team player, even going as far as taking a reduced salary to stay in Kansas City that gained the organization an extra $7 million in cap space back in March. So, when it’s said that Hali is doing his part, fans can take that information, and use it as golden gospel, because it’s simply the truth. That means Ford has to take advantage of this opportunity and take everything Hali has given him and apply at the NFL level. So far, that appears to be the case.
"Well, I spent more time this year doing football things, last year, it was the Combine, Pro Day, private workouts, visits; it wasn't the same. Then I came into trying to learn a new position. I didn't have that luxury that I have this year," Ford said about the opportunity ahead in 2015.
"My situational football, definitely (has improved), certain situations that I didn't quite understand, I could spit it out to you, but once the bullets were flying, it was different. But now that I have seen them ample amount of times and I've studied, it's coming to me."
These statements are more poignant, especially if you watch film from Ford’s snaps last season. Those low lights include included the famous clip where Ford all, but ran away from former 49er’s running back, Frank Gore, instead of going for the tackle. It was a rookie mistake that defined his season in the eyes of many skeptics. However at seasons end, he was a far more polished player, and those moments of being lost on the field, disappeared altogether.
For those doubters, Ford doesn’t offer up any apologies for not being a superstar from day one, but he does appear to have learned from the struggling-experience. Additionally, with the help of Hali and the Chiefs organization, Ford will put in the work to become the sack master in Kansas City that every-fanatic wants and needs him to become this season and beyond. One person that believes that is his head coach.
"Dee will take another step forward; he's more familiar with everything,” Head Coach Andy Reid said. “We moved positions for him where he had to be a linebacker instead of a defensive end, so there was a lot of learning that goes on there. It takes a young guy some time to digest all that, but I think it will be a win-win for everybody."
This season Ford has every intention to put his best foot forward. In doing the work this off-season, he’ll earn his NFL stripes by repeating those game changing efforts that made him a first round draft pick. At this level, he’s going to be judged on this ability to harass quarterbacks in front of the loudest and proudest fan base in the game today. So Will Ford deliver the goods this season? If you ask him, he believes that’ll be the case for a long time.
“I want to be a Chief forever,” he said.