Dee Ford was standing at his locker Sunday evening at Sun Life Stadium, bathing in the afterglow of the Chiefs’ 34-15 win over the Miami Dolphins, when teammate James-Michael Johnson sidled up to a nearby locker.
“Dee Ford — tough!” Johnson said, referring to a slogan Ford repeats often in a recent commercial for a car dealership.
Ford, an outside linebacker who was coming off the best outing of his very young career, chuckled. Then team chairman Clark Hunt walked by.
“Hey Dee, congrats,” Hunt said. “Great effort out there.”
“I appreciate that, yes sir,” Ford said.
Ford, the Chiefs’ first-round pick out of Auburn, cracked a smile. It was the first time Hunt had congratulated him for his play after a game.
“You want more of those,” Ford said. “You don’t get that unless you’re winning. It’s all about winning.”
Ford contributed to this one, too. After logging three plays in the opener against the Tennessee Titans and six plays in the Chiefs’ 24-17 loss to the Broncos the previous week, Ford played 13 snaps against the Dolphins, recording a pass breakup, a quarterback hit and a quarterback hurry.
Entering the game, Ford had yet to record a single stat.
“Yeah, I thought he played well,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Last week, he was in six plays and most of those plays he was in a drop position. This week, he had an opportunity to rush the passer, and you saw the job that Bob (Sutton) and Gary (Gibbs) did with him putting him in those positions. That’s what he does best right now.
“I thought he was able to put some pressure on the quarterback and he was playing fast, reckless-type football. It was good.”
It was indeed a solid outing for Ford, whose selection at No. 23rd overall initially raised eyebrows around the league.
Most had pegged the Chiefs to go after a receiver at that point, or even a cornerback, but Chiefs general manager John Dorsey — who has maintained that he will take a long-term view when constructing this roster — instead chose to take one of the best pass-rushers in the draft, despite the fact he played a position where the Chiefs already boast two strong starters in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.
The play of both players has been strong this year, so as expected, Ford — who knows he has to improve his pass-rush repertoire to make it in the NFL — has had to sit and watch more than most first-round picks typically do.
But Ford said this is no surprise.
“That’s the process they want me to go through,” Ford said. “Like I said earlier, they’re kind of easing me into this. This was part of the process, and this is what they knew what would happen — (I’d) slowly start to make plays and say ‘OK, I can do this.’”
Ford, who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 243 pounds, knows he also needs to make strength gains to become the player he wants to be. But Sunday, he showed flashes of the pass-rush ability that intrigued Dorsey, particularly on a second-quarter play when he recorded his pass breakup.
Ford broke out his trademark speed rush and managed to jump into quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s passing lane in time to get his right hand on the pass.
“I got a good get off (there),” Ford said. “I got close — not close enough, but close enough to deflect the pass.”
Ford also recorded a quarterback hit and pressure in the fourth quarter, when he lined up outside — with Houston lined up inside of him, closer to the quarterback — and tried a bull rush against rookie tackle Ja’Wuan James. The move didn’t work, but with Houston looping around him, they managed to team up for a hit on Tannehill, who manage to get the ball out for an incompletion.
It was one of nine times that Ford was allowed to rush the passer Sunday, which — as Reid alluded to Monday — hasn’t been a given. In his nine total snaps against Tennessee and Denver, he wasn’t allowed to rush the passer once.
“All the linebackers were dropping more than pass-rushing,” Ford explained.
But the best way to expand a pass-rush repertoire and develop a feel for how to use it is in a regular-season game, and Ford was definitely excited to test out his favorite move — the dip-and-rip around the edge — on Sunday.
“The problem with that was it was out quick,” Ford said. “I beat him around the edge, clearly, but he was letting it go very quick. But that’s part of it.
“You’ve just got to keep rushing.”
Ford said he even tried a spin move at one time, which didn’t work.
“It was forced,” Ford said. “It wasn’t there. I should have just rushed the edge. They were sitting on a lot of our inside moves.”
Now he can only hope for more learning experiences like the one he had on Sunday, which was highlighted by additional playing time and, most importantly, that winning feeling.
“I’ve got a lot to learn,” Ford said. “I’ve really humbled myself. I’m just trying to learn and play fast when I’m out there.”