Chiefs coaches defend Dee Ford’s gaffe vs. 49ers, say he’s a work in progress

The rookie learning curve has been a little steep for Dee Ford at times this season, but his coaches have faith that he’s making progress in learning the pro game.
The rookie learning curve has been a little steep for Dee Ford at times this season, but his coaches have faith that he’s making progress in learning the pro game. AP

NFL players and coach dissect tape of every play, of every game, all in the name of self-scouting and self-improvement.

That said, there was no way outside linebacker Dee Ford was going to get off the hook Monday for the most embarrassing play of his young career during the team’s film review of the Chiefs’ 22-17 loss to San Francisco.

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 Gore rushed for 9 yards right at the spot Ford vacated.

So what did Gary Gibbs, Ford’s position coach, say when that play popped up in film review?

“What did they say on ESPN? ‘Come on, man,’ ” Gibbs said with a hearty laugh.

“Come on, man,” of course, is an ESPN segment that makes fun of the lowlights across the league, such as ex-Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez’s infamous Butt Fumble. Ford’s misplay certainly doesn’t reach that level of ignominy, but it was featured on that segment and turned into a Vine video that has over 3.6 million loops.

“He didn’t read the play right,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “It came out, he kind of felt pass, it was kind of a soft run fake look to him, and then I think he just kind of morphed into his pass responsibility there. Obviously it was a bad read on his part and he needed to come up and be part of the force there.”

Ford, the Chiefs’ first-round pick, will not be made available to reporters until the team returns from the bye week, but he did not hide from the criticism on Twitter.

That response jibes with the kind of character Ford’s coaches say he has. Sutton does not doubt Ford’s toughness or willingness to play the run. Instead, he’s simply learning what it takes to play outside linebacker in the NFL after spending all years in college as a defensive end.

“Oh yeah, that has nothing to do with toughness,” Sutton said. “That’s just not reading your keys properly. It was kind of a different defense where we had him off into coverage to start with. He probably hasn’t had enough reps of those and I think he’s going to get that part.”

Through the first five games, Ford has logged just 32 of 318 possible defensive snaps (10 percent), primarily as a pass-rush specialist in obvious passing situations, such as third down. He does not have a tackle, but he does have a pass breakup, a quarterback hit and a quarterback hurry, all recorded in week three against Miami.

“Dee’s strength right now is rushing the quarterback,” linebackers coach Gary Gibbs said. “He’s helped us through the first five games as a pass rusher and he’ll see more playing time in that role as we go forward.”

Sutton, specifically, mentioned Ford’s contribution to the defensive package he plays in with fellow outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, in which the latter drops down to a tackle position and rushes from the inside.

“It’s a good thing and it takes advantage of a unique skill he has,” Sutton said. “He’s got a great first step.”

Ford, however, has contributed little to special teams, which is unusual for any player on the game-day roster who doesn’t play much on offense or defense. After logging a total of seven special-teams snaps in the first four games, primarily on punt return, he did not play at all in that phase against the 49ers on Sunday.

“He’s still a work in progress on special teams, he’ll be the first one to tell you,” special teams coach Dave Toub said. “That’s a totally new avenue for him.”

It’s not like Ford doesn’t have tools, however. Toub is intrigued by his quickness off the edge and wingspan.

“That’s why we use him on punt return and we put him on the edge,” Toub said. “He got a rep (against New England) and he got cut (blocked). So he’s got to understand that these little guys are not going to take him on like an offensive tackle. They are going to get into his legs and those are things that he’s got to learn.”

Toub noted, however, that it is a long season, and that Ford will get more work in this area if he improves.

It’s similar to what Sutton and Gibbs say about him when it comes to earning more defensive reps.

“As far as playing first and second down, he’s in the learning process; he’s making headway,” Gibbs said. “He’s doing a good job working hard, but we certainly understand where his strength lies.

The Chiefs will continue to take advantage of that strength while he gets the other parts of his game, specifically his run defense, up to snuff.

“I think he’ll be fine when it’s over with,” Sutton said. “We need him to keep going right now. This season, we’ve got a lot of football left. And we don’t have to wait for the following year for him to develop. We need to get him going as fast as we can right now.”

A key part of that process will be learning from his mistakes, even ones as embarrassing as the one he made Sunday.

“He’s very competitive, he’s a hard worker, and he spends a lot of extra time on the field and in the classroom,” Gibbs said.

“We’ve all been there, we’ve all been there. If that’s the worst play he has in his career, he’ll be in good shape.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to Follow him on Twitter at @TerezPaylor.

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