To various degrees, training camp is a proving ground for every player, but no Chief this year has more to prove than outside linebacker Dee Ford.
Ford, a third-year pro and former first-round draft pick, made strides last season, highlighted by a three-sack performance and potentially game-saving pass breakup against the Chargers.
Now, the Chiefs are looking for Ford to take the next step, and he expects the same. Ford is getting reps with starters because Justin Houston and Tamba Hali aren’t practicing following offseason knee surgery.
“I see this as an opportunity,” Ford said. “The last couple of years I’ve been working to get to this point. This is a chance for me to step up and really show what I can do.”
So far, the results have been positive. In a handful of workouts in pads, Ford has been active and shown his usual first-step burst. Coaches noticed improvement in the spring.
“I thought he had a really good offseason in OTAs,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He showed us some really positive things.”
Sutton’s praise comes with a caveat.
“I’ve answered the same way to Dee, it’s about being consistent,” Sutton said.
That was an issue last season. Yes, Ford recorded the big game against the Chargers. But he appeared in 14 regular-season games with five starts and finished with four sacks and two passes defended.
Ford said he’s a smarter player. The work ethic has been there, but when you’re not working smart, “it’s equivalent to not working at all to me,” Ford said. “When you’re not working smart, you’re putting yourself in a situation for your body to peak out. And that extra burst? You lose it when you over train.
“So it’s the same thing as not working to me. You have to be obsessed with improvement, and there’s no improvement if you over train.”
Ford said he’s far from a finished product, and he’s a bit of a larcenist when it comes to moves. He’s always looking at others who play his position.
“I’m a thief, I steal everything, but I think any great pass rusher is,” Ford said. “Once you study the (opposing) tackle and you want to know what to do that day. You might not to do the same moves the week prior. You want to see what he can’t defend.”
In camp, Ford often works against Mitchell Schwartz, the offseason acquisition who is set at right tackle.
“I love this competition we have going,” Ford said. “We push each other.”
The Chiefs will be pushing Ford throughout camp. Houston’s return is unknown and he won’t be in football shape when he gets back. Hali hasn’t practiced during camp and could be on a reduced playing schedule.
Ford will continue to get chances to build his case throughout camp, to show his smarts and improvement. The player the Chiefs hoped would take the next step now need that from Ford.