Throughout the preseason, linebacker Dee Ford remained steadfast in his belief about his own ability. With Justin Houston slated to miss the early part of the schedule, Ford knew all eyes would be on him, and he shrugged at the pressure that could potentially bring.
Four games into the season, Ford is the Chiefs’ leader in sacks, which is a good thing. The bad thing is he only has 1 1/2 , which puts him on pace for six for the year and certainly isn’t what the former first-round pick had in mind heading into year three of his career.
“I need more production,” Ford said. “That will always be my deal.”
But as far as his overall performance goes, he does feel like he’s getting the job done. He’s played 68 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps, the second-most on the team at outside linebacker behind Frank Zombo (71 percent), and Ford contends that’s some degree of proof about his progress.
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“One thing you’ve got to understand about this league — they’re not going to put you on the field (if you’re not),” Ford said, regarding the importance of doing your job.
And to that end, Ford’s playing time has been fairly consistent. In fact, you can argue the only reason Zombo has earned more playing time is because Ford was nicked up during the Chiefs’ 24-3 win over the New York Jets on Sept. 25, when he played a season-low 41 percent of the snaps because of thumb and wrist injuries on the same hand.
“I had to tape it up, but I couldn’t really do much with it,” Ford said. “Then I landed wrong on my knee. But that’s over and done with.”
In fact, the bye week was good for Ford, who said he’s been playing through tendinitis in his knee, which hampered him at the end of organized team activities in June. But he’s resolved to keep playing through that, because he knows his team needs him.
“I’ll never use that as an excuse, although it does affect me,” Ford said. “But that’s not me. … I feel like I can still go out there and do what I’ve got to do.
“Even if it slows you down, as a man you have to deal with comes with it. You’ve got to play.”
During the bye, Ford said he went to Auburn, Ala., to see his physical therapist for the first time since the offseason. Ford spent week three getting work done on his knee, which he now says feels as good as it did since the 2014 Senior Bowl.
“You do everything you’ve got to do to make sure you’re ready coming back,” Ford said. “Got some good work done, got a chance to get fresh-legged.”
The Chiefs’ pass-rush, as a whole, could use a fresher, better Ford. The Chiefs currently rank next-to-last in the NFL in sacks with a measly five, and when asked recently if he’s happy with his pass rush, Chiefs coach Andy Reid could only offer up a curt “We can do better in all areas” as an answer.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was asked how Ford is doing in his critical third season.
“Solid, you know,” Sutton said. “Like a lot of us, we’ve got to get a lot better.”
There could be help on the way, however. Reid noted that recently-signed linebacker Sio Moore earned some first-string reps at edge rusher earlier in the week, while star outside linebacker Justin Houston was recently cleared to participate in football activities.
The potential of adding a player such as Houston, who racked up 22 sacks in 2014, back into the mix soon must be a tantalizing one for a Chiefs team that currently is 2-2 and generally hasn’t generated enough pressure on the quarterback. But sacks tend to come in bunches — Ford actually has a half-sack more than Oakland’s star edge rusher, Khalil Mack, does in 119 fewer plays — and while quarterback pressures (where Ford trails Mack eight to three) tend to be a more reliable stat, Ford knows edge rushers still get evaluated off their sack production.
“I’m getting better each game, I feel,” he said.
Which is good, because Ford also knows the eventual addition of Houston will only help the Chiefs, which means the next few weeks could go a long way toward settling who — himself or Zombo (who does not have a sack or quarterback pressure) — ends up earning the stray edge-rusher snaps that are left over between Houston and veteran Tamba Hali later in the season.
“We’re hunting, man,” Ford said. “Anytime you can add to the hunt, it just makes us (better). Justin is Justin. He’s gonna provide a hell of a lot more for the defense.”