But as the next man up at the tight end position, when Kyle Rudolph went down, Ford was asked to make the jump and fill in the void. On the practice squad the first three weeks of the season, Ford got the call and has been answering that challenge ever since.
In the Vikings’ 19-13 overtime win over Tampa Bay, Ford set career highs with six receptions for 61 yards. His role in the offense is expanding and he is seeing the fruit of his labor being rewarded.
“I feel like I’m getting better every week, but there’s a whole lot of room for improvement,” Ford said. “I can get better, especially in the running game with blocking. I’m just trying to get better every day.”
Ford has been consistently targeted by Teddy Bridgewater and the Tampa Bay game marked the most he had been targeted in any game (six times). He caught all of them and hopes that the confidence Bridgewater has in him will be on the rise, too.
But Ford understands that his job in the passing game is to give Bridgewater a throwing lane to get him the ball. He isn’t going to force many passes unless the receiver is open and Ford is working hard to refine his route running to continue to get targeted more.
“Teddy’s going to hit the open receiver,” Ford said. “My goal is to get open to where Teddy can hit me. As far as a synergy (with Bridgewater), I feel like it’s good on the field.”
One of the advantages Ford has had with the change at quarterback was that he and Bridgewater worked a lot together down in training camp and early in the season. With Matt Cassel as the starter, he was taking almost all of the reps with Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph. Bridgewater was working with players like Jarius Wright and Ford. It’s no coincidence that their production has increased due to that familiarity and Ford is convinced once Bridgewater gets fully on the same page with the front-line receivers, the Vikings offense will increase its production.
“It did help me a lot in training camp because Cassel was the starter and I got to get in the groove early with Teddy – earlier than Rudy or Greg,” Ford said. “It has helped a lot.”
Another benefit for Ford’s professional career is that he has had the opportunity to work with offensive coordinator Norv Turner. One of the most respected offensive minds in the NFL, Turner has a history of being a tight end whisperer. Wherever he has coached, the tight end has consistently been an integral part of his offense and used more than in a lot of schemes. Ford has been trying to absorb information like a sponge from Turner, because, as he sees it, there are few coaches who have the experience and the track record of success that Turner has brought to the Vikings. Turner is a willing teacher and Ford has become a more-than-willing student.
“I feel like me and Coach have a good relationship,” Ford said. “I like the way he coaches me and stays on top of me. He’ll see something that maybe I don’t see myself. I appreciate him for that and I like him as a coach.”
In the world of the NFL, a lot of careers are made because a player got an opportunity and was able to show he belonged. Ford is at the crossroads of his career. He’s been signed, cut and re-signed a handful of times in his first two years, but he is convinced that his elevation to the 53-man roster in late September is hopefully the last time in a long time that he will be riding the emotional roller coaster of not knowing for certain that he will be on a roster.
He is making the most of his opportunity and is expecting that it will pay off in the long run.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been a roller coaster because I live life one day at a time,” Ford said. “I know that God lets everything happen for a reason. I wouldn’t say it’s been a roller coaster, but it has been a fun ride. I was on the practice squad the first three games and now I’m getting more playing time as (the season) has went along. It’s a blessing for sure.”