It remains to be seen if outside linebacker Tamba Hali will play against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday; Hali missed the entire week of practice, and is listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.
“Tamba, he had some swelling in his knee,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid explained. “It’s coming down and he should be OKas we go forward here.”
But if Hali cannot play this weekend — the NFL's definition of questionable means it's a 50/50 proposition — it could mean 2014 first-round draft pick Dee Ford is in line to make the first start of in NFL career.
“Dee got the reps this week and did a nice job with them,” Reid said. “He’s making progress. He’s been getting playing time, so you know he’s doing OK. We need all of them. All those defensive ends in the rotation we have in our defensive scheme, you need those guys.”
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Ford has appeared in all five of the Chiefs' games this season, recording five tackles. He does not have a sack, but he does have a quarterback hit, and is confident he has improved since last season, when he finished with eight tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.
“It's been solid,” Ford said of his play thus far. “The big plays will come. Assignment football is where you want to be.”
Ford, who is still making the conversion from a 4-3 defensive end with his hand in the ground to a 3-4 outside linebacker in a two-point stance, also hasn't had any noticeable lapses against the run on par with the one that occurred last year against San Francisco.
That's when the 49ers ran a sweep toward Ford’s side, only to have Ford — who was supposed to have outside contain — retreat to find receiver Anquan Boldin in coverage. Needless to say, he was fooled badly as Frank Gore rushed for 9 yards right at the spot Ford vacated.
“No zero plays, haven't had any zero plays,” Ford said. “That's where I want to be.”
More playing time could also mean more time in coverage, something he enjoys but rarely did at in college at Auburn.
“I like being in coverage,” Ford said. “I wanted to do more at Auburn, but they were like 'No, we want you to rush.' It was every play. And if a guy's not being stopped every play, why would you tell him to stop?
“But here, it's just another level. You have to do different things. It's just part of the defense. But I feel like it's more (I can add) to my repertoire.”
One indication of Ford's progress has come in the amount of playing time he has received, as he has logged 83 of 355 possible defensive snaps. That's means he's seen the field 23 percent of the time, which is far more than he did last season, when he only saw 9 percent of the potential defensive snaps.
In an 18-17 loss to the Bears on Sunday, Ford played a season-high 29 snaps while mixing in with Hali and outside linebacker Justin Houston, who defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said was a little “nicked up” at times.
“That's how you set (your pass-rush moves),” Ford said of his increasing playing time. “You'll be able to disguise a lot of what you really want to do to him, as far as where he's week at. So you sell him one thing, but that's really not what you're going to do toward the end of the game, when he's tired and not thinking.”
Needless to say, Ford — a natural pass-rusher — is eager to finally get on the board with a sack.
“I already know I can rush the passer and I can make big plays, but you can't force that,” he said. “Then you'll start making mistakes.”
Ford said he's stayed in contact with Hali this week. No matter who is out there at outside linebacker on Sunday, it's on them to get after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a second-year quarterback.
“I talk to (Tamba) everyday,” Ford said, “and it's the same talk every week. We've just got to play big, all three of us, on the outside.”