Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Not since his rookie year was Dee Ford as unavailable to his team as he was with the 49ers in 2019. His optimism — short-lived as it was — that his right quadricep/knee tendinitis would be “put to bed,” failed to bear fruit.
Ford played 11 regular season games and all three in the playoffs, but was limited to 22 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in the regular season, just 226 in total.
Initially, general manager John Lynch said the 49ers did not anticipate the 2018 Pro Bowler would need a surgical procedure done. But in May, Ford stated that he’d undergone a “pretty extensive clean-up” in that knee with Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola Florida.
It was a condition, in hindsight, Ford said he “can’t believe” he played through.
The amended confidence he has in his health is now based not just in optimism, but in the reality of a surgically-repaired knee. On Thursday, Ford doubled down on positive outlook, saying he wouldn’t miss 11-on-11s in practice.
“I’ll definitely be a full participant all season,” Ford said. ” That’s my goal. As far as how I feel, it feels really good right now just working in football shape. Dr. [James] Andrews did a great job this offseason cleaning me up, getting me right. I’ve been working, even through these weird times, been working all offseason. Now it’s just about getting in football shape. But as far as 11 on 11, I plan on being in all that all year.
In his limited time on the field, Ford was a force of nature for the 49ers. He provided the pass rush with serious teeth, with the unit of him, DeForest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa composing the most elite defensive line grouping in the NFL.
Still, Ford said, he didn’t play to his expectations, not consistently.
“I did what I could while I could,” Ford said. “I did not want to miss that season and leave my team hanging.. You just got to deal with where you are and provide that for the team because you only given 53 [players] for the season, but no, I feel like you saw glimpses of me, but not to that full throttle.”
He defined a successful season as “being available every play” and playing to his potential every play. Sack numbers, pressures, etc., will take care of themself, Ford said, as long as he’s out there.
Availability is the clear priority, but there was one more thing Ford said he’s prioritizing. As the 49ers went around their meeting room on Thursday and each player announced something specific they wanted to improve upon, Ford, the notoriously quick edge rusher, said he wants to get quicker.
That is, he wants to improve his get-off.
“[Defensive line coach] Chris [Kocurek] always points out that I’m a great closer,” Ford said. “But my get off, my actual get off, the initial get off, from when the ball snaps, can be a lot better… it’s it’s tough to glue in on the ball every single down. And that’s one of my goals.”
— OurSF49ers (@OurSf49ers) May 22, 2020
For a player with a reputation as one of the quickest edge rushers in the league, additional speed is a harrowing prospect for offensive tackles, especially those who aren’t exactly fleet of foot.