Thanks to the new collective-bargaining agreement, it’s no longer a pipe dream to expect first-round picks to participate in rookie camp. Instead of negotiations dragging on through training camp, top picks can be signed, sealed and delivered in a matter of weeks — just like Dee Ford.
Ford, the Chiefs’ first-round pick in this year’s draft, agreed to a four-year deal with the club shortly before the first practice of their three-day rookie minicamp began on Saturday, and all involved — executives, coaches and even Ford, himself — couldn’t have been happier.
“(It’s) a lot of relief — I hate business,” said Ford, who became the ninth first-round pick to agree to a deal. “I just want to play football.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid even took time Saturday to thank two of the men prominently involved for helping them sign their entire six-man draft class before the camp.
“I want to give a shout out to (director of football administration) Trip (MacCracken) and (salary cap/contract analyst) Brandt Tilis — all the draft picks are signed,” Reid said. “It’s good to have them all on board here and ready to go. That’s the way the new CBA works, you’re able to slot those rookies and get them knocked out fairly quick.”
Which, of course, allows them to focus on football. And Ford, who had 10 1/2 sacks last season for Auburn and 20 1/2 during his career, already has been given a clear idea of his job description as he transitions to defensive end to outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense.
“I’m gonna rush the passer,” Ford said. “I’m dropping in coverage, and they’re doing a great job of teaching me and I’m learning the system. It’s becoming second nature.”
It’s hard to glean much from a non-padded rookie minicamp practice, but Ford — who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 252 pounds — had an interception on the first play of the practice, which he caught off a deflection in coverage.
“Well, the biggest question is ‘Can I drop in coverage’ — I think I answered that question,” Ford said, half-jokingly. “It was great teamwork. The guy batted the ball to me, and I reacted to that.”
Ford also showed up to practice wearing a new number, 55, after being assigned No. 90 immediately following the draft.
The last Chiefs to wear the number was linebacker Akeem Jordan, who wore it last year, but it nonetheless seems to have some special meaning to Ford.
“I would have played in any number, but you know, of course 55 came available and this is Derrick Thomas’ college number, so it’s all good,” Ford said. “I’m not trying to be Derrick Thomas, but he’s a guy that definitely inspires me. The opportunity presented itself so I took it.”
Indeed, Thomas (who was recently selected into the 2014 College Football Hall of Fame) wore No. 55 at Alabama, where he set the single-season NCAA Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision) sack record with 27 in 1988.
Again, no one is comparing Ford to Thomas, least of all Reid. But it must have been nice to see Ford up close and personal Saturday when he showed off his trademark speed around the corner on a handful of plays, including one where he lined up in a three-point stance and shot past sixth-round tackle Laurent Duvernay-Tardif with a particularly nasty swim move.
“You get to see how explosive he is,” Reid said.
Reid and his staff are banking on it. And with Ford’s contract stuff finally out of the way, they’re also hoping he continues to develop as he tries to carve out a role on this year’s team behind starters Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
“They’re gonna beat it in my brains until I get it,” Ford said, “but I fit perfectly in the system playing behind Justin and Tamba.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.